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For Santiago, ‘it’s all just worked out’

Dragons WR John Santiago during Monday's practice in Seattle

SEATTLE – John Santiago still gets a little emotional when he thinks about the video.

After the 5-foot-9 receiver made Seattle’s 52-man roster, Santiago received a text message. Sent by Deann Oie, the mother of his girlfriend, Kiki, it was a video from third-grade students at Webster Elementary School in North St. Paul, Minn.

Before joining the Dragons, Santiago was working as a paraprofessional at the school, developing a strong bond with the students during his short tenure.

“Those kids, they’ve got big hearts,” he said.

In the video, the students sing their congratulations. Seeing that clip meant so much to Santiago, he got emotional when Oie sent the text message and then had a similar moment when he later saw it on Twitter.

“That whole school has been a blessing to me, because of all the support they throw my way,” Santiago said. “It warms my heart up, because I’ve been through a lot. It’s cool to see it pay off.”

So, how did Santiago briefly end up in the classroom instead of on the football field? Well, after finishing his career at the University of North Dakota, he spent some time with the Vikings and Falcons before getting an opportunity in the CFL with Winnipeg.

However, a hamstring injury ended his time on the Blue Bombers’ practice roster.

With a criminal justice degree and a minor in sociology, Santiago didn’t have traditional teaching credentials, but Oie found a fit for Santiago at the school.

“I don’t have the credentials to work in that setting, but my criminal justice degree helped me out,” he said. “That whole school, they knew I was a football player when I got there. They welcomed me with open arms.”

Santiago said Webster has a large population of at-risk kids. Getting to work with those children was special for receiver.

“They’re awesome kids,” he said.

In fact, Santiago was working in a kindergarten classroom when he was drafted by the Dragons. He was helping a student solve math problems, when he received a text message from current teammate Nick Temple.

They were also teammates in Winnipeg, so Temple saw the results of the draft and sent Santiago a message.

“Congrats, bro,” Temple wrote.

“Wait. What?” Santiago thought as he looked at his phone.

“I’m trying to help a student with math problems, but secretly looking at my phone,” he said.

Eventually, Santiago was getting so many text messages he had to leave the classroom.

“I stepped out of the classroom and that’s when I got a call from coach (Larry) Kirksey and coach (Jim) Zorn,” he said. “I was just overwhelmed. It was just an awesome feeling to even get drafted.”

After talking to Kirksey and Zorn, Santiago went to Oie’s classroom for a hug and a celebration. The students in Oie’s class made him a banner after the draft and it still hangs in the classroom.

“I was just amazed,” he said.

When Santiago was selected in the XFL draft, he didn’t know if he would make the team. A running back converted to receiver he wasn’t sure what the future held for him in the first-year league.

“This is the first time I made a team, the first time my coach really believed in me, not only as a football player, but also a different position, because I played running back my whole life,” he said.

He secured his spot on the roster. His latest professional football opportunity has been his best experience so far. And it’s only just getting started.

He misses the students at Webster.

“It was hard leaving those kids,” he said.

But, the students are cheering for Santiago from a distance, while he does the same from Seattle.  

His career hasn’t quite gone according to plan, but it’s trending in the right direction.

“It’s all just worked out, time after time,” he said.