Looking at the Gophers’ sideline a year ago, one may have thought No. 28 was a tight end or defensive lineman.
But that assumption would be wrong.
At 6 feet 6 inches and 260 pounds, freshman Ryan Santoso played as the team’s kicker. Head coach Jerry Kill calls him the “Big Man.”
But Santoso isn’t as big anymore. He trimmed down to 245 pounds over the summer but still carries a big leg.
Santoso said the longest field goal he’s ever made occurred during a high school practice where he kicked the ball 70 yards.
“I was very surprised. I knew I had a leg, but not that strong. It was awesome,” Santoso said.
No matter how crazy a 70-yard field goal may seem, Santoso did nail a 48-yard field goal against Michigan this season and has shown off his leg plenty of times during practice.
Field goals aside, Santoso’s power is in his kickoffs.
Santoso has kicked 76 percent of his kickoffs for touchbacks, which is good for third in the nation.
“[Santoso] kicks the ball out of the end zone most of the time. He has been very solid for us,” Kill said. “Talk about field position and defense, that’s a big part of it right there. You keep [the opposition] on a long field, [and] the opportunities to score [become] less and less.”
While the defense benefits from Santoso pinning the other team deep, the offense appreciates him for finishing drives with points.
“He changes momentum in games,” quarterback Mitch Leidner said. “He keeps us racking up points. Every time we are on the field, we want to get points, so it’s huge.”
Santoso was recognized nationally for his performance in Minnesota’s last game against Michigan. The redshirt freshman made all three of his field goals to help lead the Gophers to a 30-14 victory.
“[Santoso’s] probably the difference between winning and losing [against Michigan],” Kill said. “He makes that field goal right before half, and then he sticks the long one to give us some room.”
Santoso will attempt to continue his success this Saturday against Northwestern.
Last year, the Gophers beat Northwestern by three points, but placekicker Chris Hawthorne went 2-for-3 on his field goal attempts that day.
With Hawthorne as an established starter, it didn’t come as a surprise that Santoso redshirted his first year on campus.
During his redshirt year and this past summer, the kicker said he worked with the strength and conditioning coaches to slim down.
Santoso also said losing 15 pounds really helped him become a better kicker and athlete in general.
“[The weight loss] helped a lot [with] explosiveness and flexibility and just being overall healthy,” Santoso said. “I want to be a football player first, field-goal kicker second.”
Soccer player turned kicker
Like many other kickers, Santoso didn’t start playing football until he had already played soccer for years.
Santoso started playing football his sophomore year of high school. The summer before his junior year, he decided to quit soccer and focus on football.
“I knew that college had opportunities in both [sports], but football had better academic opportunities for me,” Santoso said.
Santoso added that the decision to focus on kicking didn’t come without some doubts from his father.
“My dad is actually from Indonesia, and he didn’t want me to play [football] because he saw it was a rough sport,” he said. “But then he saw I was only kicking and said, ‘You might as well play,’ so he loves it now.”
Santoso was a two-star recruit out of high school according to Rivals.com, and ESPN ranked him as the seventh-best kicker in the nation for the class of 2013.
He received little to no interest from any big schools in his home state of Florida and only received offers from Minnesota and South Alabama. He attributes the low numbers of offers to his late start playing football in high school.
“I was really underrated coming out of high school,” Santoso said. “I only kicked for two and a half years in high school and didn’t go to many camps. A lot of people didn’t expect the big size and the big kicking combination to work.”
The one camp that Santoso enrolled in was the National Scholarship Camp’s kickoff competition, which he won, defeating more than 400 other kickers from around the nation.
Santoso said he could have attempted to walk on at several SEC schools and would have had a good chance to make their teams, but he appreciated the Big Ten education and the fact that Minnesota offered him a scholarship.
“I guess [the SEC schools] were kind of afraid to pull the trigger on [offering me a scholarship], but I’m glad I ended up here,” Santoso said.