Chicago collegian SANTONIO’s drive was evident from an early age. Raised by a single mother in the Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood—an area blighted by poverty and gang violence—he took on the responsibility of getting himself and his younger brother to school in Rogers Park, an hour and a half away via two trains and two buses, on his own.
In seven years, he and his brother were never late once But shouldering that responsibility didn’t come without a price.
“I had to become the man of the house when I was six,” he says, “And I had a lot of anger built up. I took care of my brothers, I did the shopping, and I didn’t have my father around.”
But he soon learned to channel his anger into something productive. When he was seven years old, a mentor suggested that he try wrestling—a suggestion that changed his life.
“Wrestling saved my life,” he says. “I had ten friends I was close to in elementary school. Half of them are dead, half of them are in prison. It kept me busy, focused, and gave me the structure I needed and goals to meet. It’s made me who I am. It taught me discipline, hard work, and self-sufficiency. When it’s just you and an opponent on the mat, you can’t blame anyone else if you fail. It’s up to you to win or lose on your own. “And like my coach says,” he adds, “after wrestling, everything’s easy.”
He came to Boys Hope Girls Hope at the age of 14—another watershed event in his life. “For the first time in my life, I had access to all the things I needed,” he says. “It gave me the opportunity to go to a top school academically. I always had the ambition, but BoysHope gave me the opportunities.”
He continued wrestling and playing football after he came to Boys Hope Girls Hope at the age of 14, and throughout his high school career at Loyola Academy (where he also played football), taking 3rd and 5th in state, and 10th in National for Greco-Roman wrestling.
Now studying business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he’s continued wrestling, racking up an impressive 13-3 season. He plans to try out for the U.S. Olympic team in 2016.