PALATINE, Ill. – Discouraged by a disappointing end to his senior year wrestling season at Lake Park High School, Blake Santi (Roselle, Ill./Lake Park) planned to enroll in college at College of DuPage and leave wrestling behind.
After stepping away from the mat for some time, Santi evaluated his situation and called Harper head wrestling coach Dan Loprieno. Santi wanted redemption and a chance to continue wrestling, and the nationally-renowned Harper College wrestling program headed by Loprieno seemed like the right fit.
Santi wrestled at 141 pounds his freshman year at Harper College and worked hard in the offseason to prepare for the 2013-14 season at 149 pounds. The result has been incredible success in his sophomore season as a competitor and leader, and for that reason he can now call himself the 13th Harper College Athlete of the Week for the 2013-14 school year.
Compared to a high school wrestling season, the college wrestling is a marathon. Loprieno said it usually takes wrestlers a year to adjust to the bigger commitment. He acknowledged that Santi has done all the right things outside of the mat room and has also been a great leader.
"He leads by example and lets the guys know what the expectations are of the team and of the school," Loprieno said. "You can't ask for anything more than what he's given."
Under the offseason tutelage of assistant coach Kyle Boore, Santi has improved greatly this year from a technical standpoint. The improvement is apparent in his results, as he has won individual titles at 149 pounds in three of eight opens this year, including an individual championship and being named the meet's Outstanding Wrestler at the Al Hanke Invitational Jan. 18.
"I want to be a national champion this year," he said. "I feel like a role model to help push the other guys. It's a long college season. I've been through it, so I need to help them."
This year's success hasn't come without its challenges. Santi struggled with a 1-2 record at National Duals Jan. 11-12 but said he is looking past those struggles and pressing on in the mat room.
Santi, an accounting major, will graduate in May and currently has interest in several four-year universities in the Midwest to continue his college wrestling career. His head coach cannot wait to see what the future holds.
"It's important to have your best kid making all the best decisions. That is fundamentally what we want," Loprieno said. "He's doing all the things we want student-athletes to do. He's really taken the community college system and used it as a springboard."