YSU guard’s injury appeal denied

Santiago wants to keep playing once ACL is healed

Francisco Santiago walked the sidelines, whistle around his neck, pacing with a purpose.

His seventh- and eighth-grade Cleveland-based AAU team was within his sight, and he was watching and mentoring their moves on the basketball court.

The former Youngstown State University men’s basketball point guard didn’t know if he would feel the game-time dribbling basketball in his hands, using his innate intensity to guard and slash to the basket with reckless abandon.

Sacrificing his body was never a concern, but once he tore his right ACL in a summer-league game in 2017, things changed.

His time was spent on an exercise bike with a caged fly wheel and handles that move with his pedaling, trying to rehabilitate what took away his season. Santiago tried to play on essentially one leg, being a shell of his former self on the court. That ended Nov. 29, 2017 against Robert Morris as a Colonials player fell on his knee protected with a bulky, black brace — restricting his movements.

The rehabilitation began, progressed and bumped through a couple of denials from the NCAA stating Santiago could not get a sixth and final year of eligibility. Tuesday, his mother Janet Montoya and he went on a teleconference with the NCAA.

Montoya said Santiago was given 10 minutes to present his case. Five hours later, the NCAA came back with another denial.

“We were told it was a tough decision, but unfortunately it did not go and Francisco Santiago’s favor,” Montoya said in an email.

Appeals are finished, but not his desire. That passion can never be extinguished by an unfeeling corporate entity like the NCAA.

Basketball is Santiago’s life. His dream won’t die. The former YSU guard plans to reach out to Matt Donlan and Kendrick Perry — former Penguins players who are now professionals overseas. Santiago is seeking an agent.

In the meantime? Weight room. Drills. Layups. Floaters. Jump shots. Running. All tests for his right leg.

In September, Santiago sees if he’s cleared for full contact. That’s the last hurdle.

Getting his quadricep muscles stronger is still a process as he rehabilitates at MercyHealth and follows the plan YSU trainer Todd Burkey set forth.

He’s anxious to get back to full speed. The passion to play is stronger than ever. It’s been festering within him for a year. Playing on the court is his release.

Sometimes with ACL injuries there’s phantom pains. Santiago hasn’t experienced that, nor does he foresee it. Once he’s told he’s cleared, he aggressively pursues the task.

“Work eliminates fear,” Santiago said.

YSU men’s basketball coach Jerrod Calhoun feels for his former player and wishes the NCAA decision could’ve been different.

“Just disappointed for him,” Calhoun said. “He’s put so much time and effort into basketball and representing YSU.

“I look forward to helping him with his professional career.”

Wednesday, Santiago was helping at the Big Shot Basketball Camp directed by Sean O’Toole, who was Santiago’s coach at St. Ignatius High School.

Coaching. Eventually that’s part of Santiago’s plan.

Playing? That’s his immediate goal.

“My heart is I want to play somewhere before I get into that,” Santiago said.