CHAMPAIGN (WCIA) — It’s long been said that sports build character and if you believe that to be true, you’ll love St. Thomas More assistant football coach Joe Santillo.
“He brings smiles all the time,” St. Thomas More sophomore receiver Dawson Magrini said. “Always joking and always in a good mood and puts us in a good mood.”
“Football and real life are the same thing, in my opinion,” St. Thomas More head coach Nathan Watson said. “There’s so many different skill sets in football, it’s hard, it’s not fair. There’s some really good times. High highs, low lows.”
“Obviously he’s one of the older coaches so he has a lot of experience,” St. Thomas More senior receiver Connor Doyle added. “He’s seen everything and he always knows what to say and how to go about things.”
Santillo joined the STM staff last season when Watson took over but that’s not where their relationship starts. Santillo coached Watson during his playing days in Charleston.
“Just to bounce ideas off of,” Watson said about Santillo’s role with the Sabers. “If I’m feeling down, he picks me up. He keeps me grounded. And then just to see how much time he dedicates to other people I think is really inspiring to all of us.”
Santillo’s impact goes well beyond the field. Every Monday, he volunteers at the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen in Champaign, serving lunch to those in need. He started giving back in December to a cause he’s wanted to help with for years, but couldn’t until he retired.
“I see the value of giving somebody, not only a meal, but also treating them with dignity and respect even if it’s just for an hour a day,” Santillo said.
And that attitude is rubbing off on his players.
“He’s the role model that STM kind of pushes for and wants, so he fits in really well here that he’s helping the community,” Doyle said. “It’s not always the easiest job but he still putting in his time and showing what a leader is and what we should look up to.”
Santillo started coaching in 1969 and says St. Thomas More is the most challenging, but also the most rewarding job he’s had. The Sabers will hit the road to face the defending Class 3A state champion Monticello Sages Friday night in the WCIA 3 Friday Football Fever Spotlight Game of the Week.