Maybe one of the reasons St. Vincent Pallotti senior Antonio Santoro is a dominant athlete is because he doesn't take himself too seriously.
During one of his biggest wrestling matches, Santoro couldn't stop focusing on why the other wrestler kept pinching him.
"After the match was over, and he was guaranteed All-American status, Antonio didn't even seem to care," said Pallotti wrestling coach Andrew Lacroix. "He was so excited to show me the marks on his chest as proof that he had persevered through an intense bout of pinches."
The 2014 Laurel Leader Athlete of the Year finished second in the state twice on the mat, was a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association champion in 2013 and was an all-conference defensive lineman for the football team.
He also was a member of the lacrosse team, a leader for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for his school and carried a 3.52 GPA.
"He has such a positive spirit and is extremely likable, carrying a magnetism that the other kids on the team are drawn toward," Lacroix said. "He always wants to have fun, which truthfully was a struggle at times, but he is always so earnest and even goofy at times that it is almost impossible to be mad with him. He's definitely someone you want to be around."
Santoro's best sport was wrestling, despite never stepping on a mat before his freshman year. He was 42-9 this past season and finished his two-plus varsity seasons with a 121-29 record.
Santoro said becoming an All-American was his proudest moment as a wrestler because "everyone works for that one goal their whole life and out of all the wrestlers, I made it in the top six. It shows how far I've come as a person and as a wrestler."
Santoro entered the National Preps tournament unseeded in the 29-man bracket, but upset the fifth seeded wrestler in overtime in the first round, won his second round match in overtime, then won two matches in the consolation bracket, including another in overtime, en route to a sixth place finish.
Top eight wrestlers in each weight class are recognized as All-Americans.
A team captain, Santoro is someone the younger wrestlers admired because "he was so funny and lighthearted on the mat, but when it was time to compete, he was an entirely different person, which is exactly what you want kids to be like," Lacroix said. "When it's time to go, Antonio goes as hard as anyone you'll find."
Pallotti football coach Rick Peacock described Santoro as "very carefree, good-hearted" and noted his sense of humor as one of his strongest characteristics.
Peacock said while other teammates struck the "Heisman pose" or a quarterback pose with the football cocked back ready to throw during the individual pictures taken last season, Santoro lied on the ground, put the football under his chin and raised his legs, striking a "cheerleader pose."
"It was the craziest looking picture you would expect any football player to have, and that was his sense of humor," Peacock said. "That sticks with me all the time."
On the field, Santoro was a standout player during his three varsity seasons.
The MIAA C all-conference defensive tackle led the team in sacks during the last two seasons (six as a junior and seven as a senior) and had 14 tackles behind the line of scrimmage last year. He also started on the offensive line.
Santoro said football is his favorite sport to play and that being named all-conference his senior season was "a great feeling."
He said he told his coach that just playing well wasn't enough for him. He needed to be named all-conference to feel satisfied. So he put in all his effort, worked hard and earned the honor.
"He's not the best, not the biggest, not the strongest, not the fastest, but he works harder than most people and he's got a drive," Peacock said.
Peacock said it's rare to get a three-sport athlete who was as dedicated to each sport as Santoro was.
"I don't think he realizes how difficult that is. He managed his time very well," Peacock said. "Nowadays high school students focus so much on just one sport, and the thought of having a well-rounded high school experience where you enjoy other sports and join clubs, I think he's had that type of high school experience."
Santoro will play football, wrestle and study law at Washington & Jefferson in Pennsylvania starting in the fall.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun