Santella savors taste of NFL training camp

  • Former Wauconda and University of Illinois punter Anthony Santella is making the most of his time in the Carolina Panthers training camp.

    Former Wauconda and University of Illinois punter Anthony Santella is making the most of his time in the Carolina Panthers training camp. Associated Press File

Updated 8/11/2011 11:37 PM

Wise and realistic, Anthony Santella expects, much like one of his soaring punts, his NFL high won't maintain its current altitude.

His pro football dream could end soon, although he's been known to overcome great odds before.


His competition at the Carolina Panthers camp on the campus of Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., after all, is veteran Jason Baker, who's been punting in the league for 10 years.

"He's been nothing but helpful," says Santella, the former Wauconda and University of Illinois star, who says the same about longtime kicker Olindo Mare, who's also in camp with first-year head coach Ron Rivera's Panthers.

"It's always good to go against someone like that," Santella adds of Baker. "But it's highly unlikely I'm going to take his job. ... His form, you can tell he's really mastered it."

All else in Santella's life is like his leg motion after squeezing a snap on fourth down. It's on the upswing.

Look up. It's Anthony Santella's world.

Last summer, the former high school soccer player interned with Texas-based U.S. Soccer in its developmental academy, working tournaments in Sarasota, Fla., Greensboro, N.C., and Los Angeles.

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Last fall, the 6-foot-2, 190-pounder enjoyed a breakout season with Illinois, averaging a career-best 44.8 yards per punt in his fourth year as a starter. Conference coaches named him First Team All-Big Ten.

Earlier this summer, Santella finished his masters in sports management.

Then after the NFL's four-month-long lockout ended, he signed with Carolina as a non-drafted free agent. Several other teams, including the Bears, had expressed interest in him.

Saturday night, when Carolina hosts the New York Giants in a preseason opener, Santella is expected to make his debut in an NFL uniform. He'll wear jersey No. 9.

He said Carolina coaches have told him he'll punt in the third quarter and maybe the fourth. The Giants, coincidentally, also boast a former U of I punter in Steve Weatherford.


"It'll be pretty surreal," Santella says. "If you would have told me five years ago that I'd be in Carolina punting in an (NFL) game, I would have told you that you were crazy."

Know what's crazy?

Santella overcoming five knee surgeries in high school, where his kicking skills made him a standout on both the football and soccer field.

Know what's crazy?

Santella transferring from Utah after one semester to Illinois, walking on the football team, earning a scholarship and becoming one of the best punters in the Big Ten.

Know what's crazier still?

After a grueling morning practice this week, Santella found himself having lunch with a couple of veteran tight ends -- Jeremy Shockey and former Bear Greg Olsen.

The punter got a kick out of that.

"Awesome guys," Santella says.

Santella quickly settled in as "one of the guys" at Panthers camp and now is just having an awesome time while focusing on learning and improving.

"I'm in a good spot," Santella says. "So far, so good. I'm punting very well."

If a professional football career isn't in his future, Santella won't lament his fate.

He's established more professional business contacts than he can count and can see himself working overseas.

"I feel like I'm in a pretty darn good spot," he says. "But right now it's all football, football, football."

It's a high he's soaking up.