June 19, 2014
RALEIGH, N.C. - Injuries and hurricanes - neither is usually the harbinger of good fortune. But for the Washington Redskins’ new Director of Pro Personnel, injuries and a devastating hurricane are the reason he is where he is today.
Alex Santos arrived on NC State’s campus in 1995, fresh from Hargrave Military Academy. He had it better than most rookies, as three of his prep school teammates were also Wolfpack freshmen: Torry Holt, Bobbie Cotten and Devon Smith. “Everybody can’t handle Hargrave,” Santos remembers. “But the four of us had gone through that experience and also had the opportunity to go to NC State together so that made it fun. We were all pretty close and will be lifelong friends.”
As a freshman, Santos saw action in five games at offensive guard behind senior Steve Keim, a two-time all-conference performer. The following year, after Keim signed with the Miami Dolphins, “Tos” was the full-time starter. As a junior, his playing time was limited after a knee and achilles tendon injury, but he came back ready for a strong senior campaign in 1998. He started the first two games of that year, including the Pack’s win over No. 2 Florida State, before a knee injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
“Being injured was challenging, but it ended up being for the best,” Santos says. “I was able to get a medical redshirt which allowed me to focus on school & rehab to get ready for the next season.”
Santos wasn’t the only one who was injured. Keim had also suffered a devastating injury while playing pro ball and had come back to his alma mater as a graduate assistant coach. “He really helped make my experience at NC State a good one,” says Santos, who earned a degree in Spanish language and literature. “He took an interest in me and and helped me a lot, on and off the field.”
Following graduation, Santos moved back to Florida and took a job in pharmaceutical sales. After a year away from football, he realized that he missed it too badly to not be involved. His mother had moved back to Paterson, NJ, where he had spent his early years, so he took at job at Eastside High School (from “Lean on Me” fame) and was able to teach and coach while he pursued his graduate degree.
“It was tough being in grad school, teaching special ed and coaching, but it was very rewarding to work with kids and it was great to be back in football,” Santos says. “My high school coach, Bill Holt, was a role model for me and I wanted to be that as well for the kids I coached. Also coaches Robbie Caldwell and Jimmy Kiser at State had helped make playing football fun and had taken a genuine interest in me. They both taught me a lot about life and how to manage being a student-athlete.”
Santos spent 3-1/2 years coaching in New Jersey before he decided he wanted to graduate to the college game. Caldwell had taken a job at Vanderbilt and helped him land a position with Commodores. One of his main roles was dealing with the NFL scouts who visited campus. Ironically, a hurricane made his position more vital to the scouts who came through.
“Hurricane Katrina had just hit and it was difficult for the scouts to get down to the Gulf Coast or Houston area, so a lot of them would come through Nashville. I met a lot of NFL personnel. I would set up film for them and talk to them about particular players.”
One of those scouts was a man named Jake Hallum, a 24-year veteran of the college coaching ranks who then went on to a long and successful career in pro scouting. “Jake Hallum was an experienced scout and would ask me my opinion about certain players. Every time he came to campus, he would ask for me. One day he asked me if I had ever had an interest in scouting and told me he thought I would be a good scout. At the time, I just wanted to coach, but he planted the seed. Also Steve Keim was scouting for the Arizona Cardinals by then, so I really started thinking about it.”
The more Santos thought about it, the more he liked the idea. In 2006, he was able to land a job with the Washington Redskins.
“I’ve never looked back,” said Santos, who was named the ‘Skins Director of Pro Personnel last month. “I wanted to learn and was grateful for the opportunity to come to an organization like the Redskins.”
In his job at Washington, Santos has always been on the pro scouting side, scouting upcoming opponents and free agents. After he had been in his position for a couple of years, his former NC State teammate Morocco Brown was named Director of Pro Personnel. “I learned a lot from Morocco. He is really sharp and really passionate about what he does.”
In his new position, Santos and his staff are in charge of monitoring the entire NFL. “We try to watch at least three or four games on every player on every team. We help set the table for free agency by evaluating that year’s free agent class and ranking them accordingly. We also have to evaluate based on what the team’s needs are. But our main goal is to identify players that help us win on Sundays.”
Although his days sometimes start before the sun comes up and end way after sundown, Santos is passionate about his career, particularly with the Redskins. “I absolutely love it. I wouldn’t do it if i didn’t. It’s a big challenge and a big responsibility, but any time you get a win on Sunday, all the stresses and challenges of the week go away. Working for one of the flagship organizations in the NFL has been a great experience. I’m grateful to Mr. Dan Snyder and the Redskins for giving me this opportunity.”
Santos is one of many former Wolfpack players that are currently in NFL front offices. Keim is the now the General Manager of the Cardinals while Brown is the Vice President of Player Personnel for the Cleveland Browns. Kevin Turks holds the same position as Santos with the Chicago Bears and numerous former players are college scouts for NFL teams.
“There is no school to learn scouting,” Santos says. “You have to learn on the job as you go. But the best teacher was playing and being around coaches who knew the game and taught it in the right way. That good football foundation has been instrumental in my development.”