Nov. 26, 2012
By: Brooke Blankenship, Tulane Athletic Communications
Scientists estimate that the average person makes 1,000 decisions each day. One such decision Cairo Santos made as a 15-year-old living in Brazil has brought the Tulane University junior place kicker over 4,300 miles and completely altered his life course.
Santos, born in Brasilia, Brazil, chose to participate in a foreign exchange program at his high school that would place him with a family in Florida for a year.
"I signed up in January 2010 and I was going to start school in America that August as a sophomore," Santos said. "I didn't know the family I would be placed with until a week before my flight and didn't know what to expect at all."
Santos completed his year abroad, but then another opportunity and another decision confronted the young Brazilian. "My host family and I fell in love with each other. I was only supposed to stay for a year but they invited me to come back for another year and possibly to graduate high school. I had to talk to my parents because they missed me but I wanted to graduate in St. Augustine," Santos said.
Aside from school, Santos had another reason to stay in the United States: football. "I've always been into sports. In Brazil I was just like everyone else, good at soccer but I wasn't a stand out. Once I started football and kicking in high school though, people started noticing that I was good," Santos said.
Santos' next decision was what kind of field he wanted to play on during his college years-- the football gridiron or the soccer pitch. "I considered playing soccer and I had offers from Jacksonville University and Gardner-Webb. I took official visits to both, but I remember sitting at a football game during my visit to Gardner Webb and I was more interested in the football game than hanging out with the soccer players. That was when I realized I wanted to kick," Santos said.
The NCAA eventually cleared him and Santos began to transition into his new life. Santos describes his first year on the Tulane University campus as "so hard in the beginning." Although he had already spent three years in Florida away from his family, starting an entirely new chapter in his life a few thousand miles from his family caused Santos a few problems. "It was hard those first two months because I missed them. I couldn't really eat or sleep well. We would Skype four times a week and talk on the phone a lot. I wasn't sure I could spend four more years away from home," Santos said.
Luckily for Santos, and the Green Wave, he wasn't completely without family in the United States. "I was able to stay in touch with my host family. They are like another family to me and they are here for me in everything I do. In fact, I'm going to spend Christmas with them this year," Santos said.
With the support of his host family and encouragement from his family in Brazil, Santos adjusted to college life and decided to stay in New Orleans.
Once again, the decision has worked out well for Santos, as the 21-year-old junior is a finalist for the 2012 Lou Groza Award, which recognizes the best collegiate place kicker. "It's a prestigious award. Ever since I began kicking, I've known of this award and I've wanted to get to this stage. I am honored to even make the semifinalists and be recognized as one of the top kickers this season," Santos said.
Santos is a perfect 20-of-20 on field goal attempts this season. His success is no fluke; he made a decision after his disappointing sophomore season to improve his game. Santos practiced throughout his summer break, but the way he practices is a little different from what most kickers experience. "I go back to Brazil and we don't have uprights or goal posts because we don't play American football. I went to a park and I was thinking about how I could make it work. I found two skinny, tall trees in a big field and I decided to kick through them. It was fun," Santos said.
"Last year I didn't do well on my kicks because I didn't trust that I had the distance on my long kicks. That's a change I've made this year. I know I have the distance so I focus on form and technique on every kick, from extra points to my 50-yard attempts. Coach (Barry) Lamb just lets me kick it as far as I can and lets me feel comfortable in everything I do. For a kicker, you just want to feel confident and comfortable," he added.
Santos hopes that his success continues because the young management major has his heart set on staying the United States and taking his talents to the next level. "I definitely want to stay in the U.S. My perfect plan is to finish my degree and get a job. My parents even have an interest in moving here if I get a stable job. I want to keep training so I can go to some try-outs for professional teams. My ultimate dream is the NFL, but I know it is a hard road and leagues like the United Football League and the Arena Football League are a good start to get me there," Santos said.
Getting in the NFL is a hard road indeed, but one thing Santos does not lack is inspiration. "My role model is Frank Lampart, an English football player from Chelsea. I like the way he worked to get where he did. No one believed in him, but he went out and proved everyone wrong. I've read his biography multiple times and I have his posters in my room. I really want to go to England to watch a game and see him before he retires. I need to at least see him play. His example helps to remind me to keep working and prove what I can do," Santos said.
The other person Santos looks to for inspiration is a little closer to home. "My other role model is a kicker, Caleb Sturgis the current University of Florida kicker. He went to high school down the road from me in Florida and I've trained with him. He has taught me a lot. He is a very good kicker, and I try to elevate my game to match his level of kicking. He made the Lou Groza Award semifinalist list this year, and he was a finalist for the award last year. I would love to achieve the same success he has had," Santos said.
Inspired, talented and with a knack for putting himself in positions to succeed, Santos reflects on the path he has taken so far. "I wanted to study abroad. I chose to participate in the foreign exchange program when I was 15, but I never dreamed it was going to get this far," Santos said.
That one decision began the snowball effect that has led Cairo Santos to the United States, to Tulane University as the place kicker for the Green Wave and to recognition as a finalist for the Lou Groza Award. The 15-year-old Santos may not have foreseen the opportunities that would arise from his choice, but as the young Brazilian sits in New Orleans, perfect on field goal attempts and with a clear vision of where he wants his next decisions to take him, Santos can't help but smile at the way everything has turned out.