- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Editor's note: Before Texas' 2012 recruiting class arrives on campus, HornsNation will talk with each of the incoming freshman one more time before their college careers begin.
When Dalton Santos (Van, Texas/Van) signed with Texas in Feburary, he vowed he would take the Longhorns' middle linebacker job as a freshman. Now that he's preparing to graduate from high school, he only wants it more.
In an interview with HornsNation, the ESPN 150 recruit broke down his difficult decision to decommit from Tennessee, his plans for his first college season and the greatest hit he's ever made.
HornsNation: How do you look back on the way your recruiting process came to an end?
Santos: All of it was just a great experience, man. I'm just so thankful I had that, that I had those choices. But it was tough to be in that position in the last several weeks. Everything gets so hectic and not knowing what you're going to do, you get lost in the moment. Now that I look back on it, it was all a blessing and an awesome experience. I should've enjoyed it more than I did.
HN: What are some things you'll always remember about that process of going from a Tennessee commit to a Texas signee?
DS: When the Tennessee [linebackers] coach [Peter] Sirmon left, I was at the Under Armour Game and I had no idea he left. I was kind of mind-blown. I knew that's where I wanted to be. I loved Tennessee, man. After the practice, a bunch of reporters swarm in and ask, 'Hey man, what are you going to do now that Sirmon is gone?' What? I had no idea. After that, I didn't know what I wanted to do. I was lost. I wanted to try to forget it and enjoy that week I had down there with the guys.
So I did my best to try to forget about it. I get home and reality hit me. What am I going to do? Sirmon is gone. [Defensive coordinator Justin] Wilcox is gone. I don't know what I'm going to do. So I started calling back coaches: Alabama, Florida, Texas A&M, all these different schools. I start telling them, 'Hey, I don't know what I'm gonna do.' I had a trip down to Alabama, and then I'm down at Arkansas two weeks before signing day. The last week, I was going to be at Texas A&M.
So I'm down at Arkansas, I'm having a good time, having a blast and really liking it, and at their basketball game I kept getting a call from a 512 number. I was like, this must be a reporter. Sure enough, coach [Mack] Brown had messaged me on Facebook and called me. So I called him and was like, 'Coach Brown, how you been?' I ain't talked to him since early in the recruiting process.
And we talk about going down to Austin and stuff like that, I say OK. And then he says, 'Let me come out there, let me come to Van.' He came out there, talked to my family and was just good to my family. They were Texas fans and it was just a really neat deal. After that, I got down there. I looked at the campus, looked at my dad and my family and I really had no choice but to say yes. After that, I knew that's where I had to be for my sake and my family's sake. I feel like now that was probably the best decision I've ever made.
HN: You went down to the Under Armour All-America Game and got to know those nine Texas commits very well. How did that change your thinking about where you wanted to go?
DS: Oh man, the Under Armour game was awesome. I ran into the Texas guys while we were at the airport -- Peter Jinkens, Johnathan Gray, Malcom Brown and all those guys. Automatically, we all got together quickly and just clicked. When we got to the Under Armour practices, we saw the way each other played, saw their compassion for the game and the competitor in everybody. We all just clicked so well being together. We all got along. Peter, Malcom and J-Gray were just chill. Just getting to know them, we had a great connection with each other and hit it off. That's a bond I'll have the next four years of my life.
HN: You've said you're going to Texas to make the starting middle linebacker job yours. Do you still feel that way?
DS: I am going to make that job mine, because that's the job I want and that's the position I want to play. I'm going to do my best to get in there and knock heads. I'm not afraid to say it: I'm going to come out there and make that job mine, no doubt about it. I'm going to bring everything I have to the table and I'm not going to back down from anything or anyone. I'm coming to Texas and I'm bringing hell with me.
HN: You got to watch Texas practice this spring. How do you assess its linebacker situation?
DS: You know, after the starting guys there's a pretty big dropoff. The starters are impressive, they are. But as soon as you get past them there's not too many guys to back them up. Really, my chance to get down there and play early is outrageous.
HN: You've developed this reputation as a maniac on the football field. Where did that come from?
DS: I don't really know. I have no idea. The only thing I remember is, when I was young my dad said linebackers are half stupid and crazy. You've got to be half crazy out there but have enough sense to know what you're doing, and then you've gotta not care and throw your body on the line and knock somebody smooth out. That's one thing I've learned. When I'm out on the field, I think. But everything is natural and feels so easy. Get to the ball and knock his head off. It's so simple. Being a competitor and being nasty is something God gives you -- you can't just teach somebody to be nasty and give them a mean streak. That's something I've always had.
HN: What's the greatest hit you've made in your career?
DS: I've had a lot of good ones. This year, we were playing Palestine. It was so sweet. This quarterback was throwing out of the pocket, and I was coming so he got out of the pocket. He pump faked, pulled it, ran towards the sideline and I smoked him right up under the chin. Man, I remember standing above him and looking down. He got up, he looked me right in the eyes and I swear his eyes rolled to the back of his head. He just fell backwards and he was out. At that point, I knew it was over. It was crazy. Everybody was silent in the stands. You could hear a pin drop, that's how silent it got. It was one of the craziest things I've ever seen in my life.
HN: Do you think you'll be able to make those kinds of plays as a freshman when everyone else is bigger, stronger and faster?
DS: Man, that's going to happen and there's going to be times they're bigger and faster than me, but I ain't worried about that. I ain't worried about how much bigger or faster you are. I'm going to do my best to go out there and knock your screws out. I'm not afraid to bring what I've got to the table. I know I'm one of the strongest linebackers around. My speed, I'm fast and I can move. I'm not scared to say that. I know when I get out there I'm going to bring everything I have on every play and every second. I'm not there to play around. I want this to be my life. I hope the Lord keeps me healthy and I want this to be what I do. Not just for four years, but maybe for 10.
HN: How excited do you get when you start thinking about that first big hit under the bright lights at Texas?
DS: Oh man, you have no idea. It gives me chillbumps. Every day I think about that kind of stuff. My first hit, the first time I knock somebody's helmet off. I think about that. It's always on my mind. I sleep, breathe and eat it. Just thinking about that moment – a halfback dive and you smoke 'em up the hole – is just an awesome thought.
Incoming freshman linebacker Dalton Santos talks about his late choice to commit to Texas and some of his biggest hits.