Zook: Santella will start Saturday

By Jason Grodsky

Illinois head coach Ron Zook announced Tuesday that redshirt freshman Anthony Santella would take over the starting punting job for this weekend’s home opener against Western Illinois.

“I was able to get some experience last weekend and I feel I’m going to improve and do a lot better than I did against Missouri,” Santella said. “I’m definitely looking forward to the opportunity to make the special teams do better.”

Santella averaged 37.7 yards per punt on six punts against Missouri and twice was able to pin the Tigers inside their own 20-yard line.

Santella knows, however, that he will have to improve in order to keep the starting job. But head coach Ron Zook said that if the Wauconda, Ill., native keeps up the good work, he’ll be the guy getting the snaps.

“As long as he continues to do what he’s capable of doing he’ll continue to be the punter,” Zook said. “Everybody understands that it’s not your birthright to play here; you have to earn your position and maintain it. I think that’s what they want as players and the fans want as fans.”

After last season’s constant struggles in the punting game, Zook found himself in search of fresh legs and found Santella wanting a fresh start and decided to give him a chance to compete for the punting job for the Illini.

“I really believe that you can’t have too many guys on a football team, and he’s a guy that has punted and lost a job out there,” Zook said. “But I know he really had some movement. I liked what I saw. I’m excited about him and he knows he’s going in so we’ll see what happens.”

Santella spent last season on the sidelines at Utah. But after a year playing for the Utes he chose to transfer back closer to home.

“I just didn’t feel at home out west,” Santella said. “I like being closer to home and I know a lot more people here than at Utah. With the program on the rise I couldn’t ask for a better situation to come into.”

With his first game under his belt Santella said he expects to feel more comfortable and is excited to run out on the field at new renovated Memorial Stadium on Saturday in front of the home crowd.

“Hopefully now that all the new additions have been put in the stadium should be rocking,” Santella said. “We’re all excited and we just have to let our actions speak for themselves this weekend.”