By Ray Hamill — After receiving interest from several different colleges, Arcata senior Hayden Santsche has revealed where he will play college football this fall.
The inspirational team leader for the Tigers, who played three seasons at the varsity level, will join teammate Maximus Rice at Azusa Pacific, taking his talents to the NCAA Division-II level.
And while the outgoing senior is glad he will continue to get to play alongside his friend, he says that’s not the only reason he chose Azusa.
“It was more just the area and the fit,” Santsche said of his decision, after considering offers from numerous other quality programs, including both George Fox and Linfield in Oregon. “I like (Azusa’s) defensive scheme and I just like SoCal in general.”
Santsche, who also received interest from Riverside City College and San Mateo, expects to red shirt this fall and wants to put himself in position to win a starting spot at outside linebacker in time for 2021.
“I want to try to become a starter by next year, that’s my goal,” he said. “Just to put myself in position to compete for a starting spot by my sophomore year.”
Santsche says he hopes to use his first year to bulk up a little in order to be able to make the jump from the Little 4 to the Division-II collegiate level.
As for his time at Arcata, the outgoing senior says he will remember his teammates and coaches more than anything.
“I had such great teammates, and I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world,” he said. “It’s a real family there, just from coach (Jamal) Jones to everybody on the team.”
Santsche admits he will remember one player in particular, and says the loss of teammate Everett Halikas, who tragically passed away earlier this year, was a tough experience for everyone associated with the team.
“Losing Everett had a big effect on my life,” Santsche said. “We were so connected. He was like my little brother. He was such a kind person and such a great leader and friend. I don’t think I’ll ever have a friend like that again.”
According to Santsche, Jones has played a big part in building that family culture at Arcata High.
“I don’t think there’s a better coach or a better man in the county than coach Jones,” the outgoing senior said. “He really does get the best out of his players, off the field as well.”
For Santsche, the jump to the collegiate level seemed like a long shot a few years back when he was forced to sit out two full seasons of youth football.
Playing in the Six Rivers Youth Football Conference as a seventh grader, Santsche suffered a devastating elbow injury that required multiple surgeries.
His passion for the game, however, saw him return to the field of competition as a high school sophomore, and he hasn’t looked back since.
“I love football,” he said. “It’s my No. 1 sport. I just love everything about it.”
Santsche’s older brother Hunter also is a collegiate athlete, playing basketball at Sonoma State.