WORCESTER — It didn’t take long for Doug Santos to make a name for himself on the football team at Peabody High. The 2015 graduate was known for giving opposing teams headaches on Friday nights as one of the most feared running backs in the Northeastern Conference.
Fast forward to 2018 and Santos is carving out a similar role for himself at Division II Assumption College. In 11 games last season as a sophomore, Santos ran the ball 68 times for 300 yards and five touchdowns. He missed a few games as he recovered from a high ankle sprain suffered during Assumption’s season opener. Santos helped the Greyhounds to an 11-2 finish and a trip to the Division II Quarterfinals, the most successful season in program history.
“My first year it was kind of just coming out of high school and playing college football, which is a whole different monster,” Santos said. “I got hurt during my first game last year. I kept my head up. Toward the end of the year I felt a lot healthier. I felt much better at the end of the season. I’m ready to take on this year with a full head of steam.”
Plenty of changes took place during the offseason at Assumption. The Greyhounds hired Andy McKenzie in February as their new head coach and Tommy Galt as their new offensive coordinator. McKenzie and Galt have brought in a new offensive system at Assumption but it suits Santos.
“I think I fit into the new system very well,” Santos said. “It’s different because we have a couple different reads now. We’re out running more routes on a pass. I feel like it gives us opportunities to make plays. I’m very grateful for that.
“I think I have to be a little more patient than last year. Last year I was anxious, I wanted to get the ball and go. With this offense we slow things down a little bit to make the right reads and cuts. That’s what I’m trying to improve on and work on.”
With veteran leadership at the forefront, the Greyhounds have made their best effort to get past the learning curve that comes with a new coaching staff taking over the program. Santos said challenges have come up along the way but the Greyhounds, who return 14 starters, were prepared to handle them.
“We’re looking very solid right now,” Santos said. “It’s not easy putting in a whole new offense and defense, but with the type of guys that we have here we look like we’re naturally built for it so we’re looking good so far.”
Santos and the Greyhounds enter the 2018 season with high expectations after Assumption was picked first in the Northeast-10 Preseason Poll, a vote taken by the league’s 10 head coaches.
Despite the lofty goals, Santos said Assumption’s plan is to take a “one game at a time” approach.
“We have it on our minds that we just have to be 1-0 every Saturday,” Santos said. “That’s what we’ll think about every Friday, just going 1-0 on Saturday. If we take it one game at a time I think we’ll be fine in the long run.
A criminology major, things have gone well for Santos academically. The academic year started earlier this week at Assumption. Santos applauded his coaches and the athletic department for opening resources whenever they’re needed.
“It’s nothing we can’t handle,” Santos said. “The coaches are here to help us a lot. Assumption provides help if we need tutors or anything like that, they’re always here to assist us. They have a great academic center. We can always go there if we need and that’s really beneficial.”
During his years at Peabody High, Santos established a strong relationship with Tanners football coach Mark Bettencourt. Bettencourt, a former Peabody quarterback, and his wife, Lauren, took Santos into their family as foster parents. Santos still keeps in touch with the Bettencourts on a regular basis and the family often attends Assumption’s games.
“(Mark) supported me every step of the way and I’m thankful for him, Lauren and the kids,” Santos said. “They’re always supporting me and having my back through whatever I go through.
“We talk about everything. I’m always checking up on him and he’s always checking up on me. He asks me about school and social life. I ask him about the family and everything. I try to stay in touch with the kids as much as possible.”
The Greyhounds open the season Saturday afternoon (1) when they host Kutztown (Pa).
“We’re ready to go,” said Santos. “We’ve been preparing for this since last spring. We’re ready to get after it.”