The NCAA, perhaps unwittingly, furnished the Portland State secondary with a major boost for the 2016 season when they granted safety Walter Santiago a rare sixth year of eligibility.
Given an additional season to play FCS college football, Santiago combines with second team All-Big Sky cornerback Xavier Coleman, UCLA transfer Tyler Foremen and sophomore Artuz Manning to form what could be the best secondary in the Big Sky Conference.
Without a doubt, few Big Sky defensive backfields are more talented than the Vikings.
“There is a lot of talent back there,” Portland State coach Bruce Barnum told Viking Tales. “(Santiago, Coleman and Foreman) all have different personalities. They’ve bought in to Coach Roberson’s system. I was excited to watch them.”
Typically, the NCAA grants a sixth year of eligibility to a Division I athlete only as long as a narrow set of criteria are met, including the player missing at least two years of action due to injuries and he has consistently remained in good academic standing.
Santiago satisfied both criteria.
After signing with Portland State in 2011, Santiago redshirted his first season with the program before suffering season-ending injury before the start of the 2012 campaign.
Finally seeing the field in 2013, Santiago contributed at safety and on special teams, contributing 18 tackles and two forced fumbles.
When the 2014 season began, Santiago eyed earning a starting role in the PSU secondary, but a broken collarbone in preseason camp sabotaged his plans. He returned in 2015 and was a vital cog in the Vikings’ vastly improved defense.
Since he had appeared in a game in just two of his first five seasons, Santiago’s petition to the NCAA asking for a sixth year had plenty of merit.
Santiago was recently voted a defensive captain by his teammates.
“Besides his leadership, he’s a tough cat,” Barnum said. “He brings grit to that side of the ball. Walter is not a Hollywood kid. I love watching him play. I love how he acts in practice. Walter being voted a captain was great to see. There were a lot of votes for him. I’m glad he’s back. He understands what we’re trying to do around here as coaches. I wish I had him for 12 more years.”
A product of local powerhouse Jesuit High School, Coleman signed with Portland State in 2013 and has started the last 25 games he has been available to play.
After spending the 2015 season adjusting to life at the FCS level following two years existing under the bright lights of Westwood and the Pac-12, Foreman had three pass breakups – most of any player on opening weekend in the Big Sky Conference – and six tackles in the win over Central Washington.
“I like how Tyler responded. I thought he got better every snap,” Barnum said. “That’s important.”
Foreman, a four-star recruit out of Crespi High in Pasadena, redshirted in 2013 at UCLA and played sparingly in 2014, appearing in two games and making one tackle.
In addition to possessing loads of talent, Foreman arrived in Portland with the proper attitude for a player shifting gears from big-time college football to the Big Sky Conference, where football budgets are significantly less than the Pac-12.
“The ones that move down to FCS and flourish are the ones that remember they love the game of football,’ Barnum said. “They’re going back to sandlot when it was just a game and it wasn’t Hollywood. Our lockers have the old locks that you have to turn right-left-right. You don’t put your hand on your locker and it opens and talks to you. When you walk into our locker room you have to flip a switch.”
— Portland State added transfer Chris Seisay to its roster prior to last weekend’s season opener against Central Washington. Seisay, a 6-1, 190-pound junior, transferred from Oregon, where he played two seasons. Seisay appeared in 20 games for the Ducks. He started three times at defensive back in 2014, including the Rose Bowl and the National Championship game against Ohio State. Seisay is expected to play wide receiver for the Vikings, a position in which he starred at American Canyon High School in Vallejo, CA.
— 2016 defensive captains for Portland State are Santiago and Coleman, while quarterback Alex Kuresa and center Cam Keizur are the offensive captains.
BIG SKY SCHEDULE (Sat. Sept. 10)
North Dakota at Bowling Green, noon (American Sports Network/ESPN3/Altitude)
Weber State at South Dakota, noon (ESPN3)
Eastern Washington at North Dakota State, 12:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
Northern Arizona at Western Illinois, 1 p.m. (ESPN3)
Bryant at Montana State, 1 p.m. (Altitude 2)
Portland State at San Jose State, 1:30 p.m. (Streaming on Mountain West Network)
Montana at Northern Iowa, 2 p.m. (ESPN3)
Idaho State at Colorado, 2:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
Northern Colorado at Abilene Christian, 4 p.m.
San Diego at Cal Poly, 4 p.m. (WatchBigSky.com)
Southeastern Louisiana at Southern Utah, 5 p.m. (WatchBigSky.com)
Southern Oregon at UC Davis, 6 p.m. (WatchBigSky.com)
Sacramento State at Fresno State, 7 p.m. (Mountain West Network)
— Nick Krupke (@NickKrupke) September 5, 2016