Sunday, October 19, 2014

Soccer A Way Of Life For Battle-Tested Santucci

Buoyed by a beyond-his-years savvy and point guard-esque vision, Giuliano Santucci's unique blend of instincts, know-how, and experience has molded him into one the New York Soccer Club's top netminders.

Versatile enough to dictate the offensive flow as effectively as he could stymie it in net, Santucci's feel for the game developed rather early.

"When I was in my mother's stomach, I was kicking and kicking," said Santucci, a Yorktown native who trains with Guillermo Valencia, the reputable New York area goalie coach.

"I was kicking and juggling bubbles in my mother's stomach."

While the energy of Marcello and Silvia Santucci's oldest son was boundless, it portended his earliest athletic exploits.

From ages 4-11, Santucci did not play age appropriate.

Rather than being thrown to the wolves, the three-time Regional Champion was facilitating offense and applying a rigid brand of defense against guys 3-4 years older than him.

He had constant backyard brawls on his feet.

His first-ever opponent, go-to influence and arguably his biggest advocate today is his cousin, Enzo Sangiacomo.

 Everything from jump rope to swimming to brisk distance runs on the Santucci-Sangiacomo's combined five acre property in Yorktown extracts heightened, unavoidable competition.

"Honestly, he's like my brother," said Santucci of Enzo, the midfielder with whom he forms an inseparable tandem.

And while a young Giuliano Santucci was entrenched in constant battles from midday to sundown with Enzo, he had a stiffer challenge against his uncle, Fernando Salazar.

Salazar played professionally with C.A. Rentistas Club in Uruguay.

He battled Santucci with the same high-wired aggression as he did professional foes.

"You know how parents are supposed to always let the kid win when they're younger? Well he never did that with me," Santucci said, trickling into laughter.

"Never. He would kick me around and play me physically. He was trying to get me pissed and get me to play as tough as possible. He took no mercy on me."

Growing up a bit faster than most, Santucci reaped the results of the around-the-clock work load.

There was no training wheels or life jackets on his young game. Everything had to be learned the hard way.

Santucci's  defensive acumen grew, grew, and grew.

Rarified, deceptive athleticism and an advanced understanding of scoring threats' tendencies earned Santucci respect between the posts.

Keeping the net intact, he subscribed to the role of neutralizing perilous scorers.

He knew where to make the stop.

 He was poised to fend off shots and stifle attacks.

All the hyper-physical one-on-one games, which saw him bruise quicker than a banana, paid dividends.

 Enzo and Salazar's long afternoons pelting him with shots and blasting goals at him was adequate preparation.

"From age 4-10, I noticed that this kid has a natural talent and is really in a class of his own," said Rick Romanski, the head honcho of Yorktown Youth Soccer Club.

"At a young age, he had an amazing view of the field of play. He had the instinctive nature. He was very cognitive, very coachable and showed early strides of being a tremendous goalie."

While other young kids were nestled in sandboxes and playing with legos, Santucci was manipulating and stopping waves of shots while quarterbacking offense for a slew of Romanski's Yorktown-based club teams.

He was as vocal as he was diligent, often helping other players out with the mentality of a de facto coach.

"We wanted to nurture his talent in the right way," Romanski said.

"We had to at least place him a few notches above his age level. He had that skill-set and mentality to make that decision a no-brainer."

Romanski recalls sitting him down during a one-on-one, mentor-pupil session that lasted about 15 minutes.

While Romanski's Kiids program's is a no-pressure environment with emphasis on fun, productive activities and team concepts, he knew he had to approach Santucci with a different mindset.

His message was simple: "You have natural ability that far exceeds the rest,' I explained to him," Romanski said.

"But it's never going to work unless you commit to this sport as much as you can, without distractions. Don't lose it, kid."

Santucci reacted by pouring his sweat and livelihood to the sport, revolving all four seasons around a schedule that fits his skill-set, classification, and devotion. Now he's playing against his own age group at the New York Soccer Club.

His biggest challenge in life has occurred off the field.

Santucci lost one of his closest friends, Jack Reyna, to cancer in 2012.

Very rarely does Santucci wake up without thinking of his friend. When he suits up for games, he makes sure the band commemorating Reyna's life is draped to his arm securely.

Honoring Jack's life and keeping his presence alive is "my sole source for motivation."

Santucci is a forward naturally.

He knocked in the tie-breaking goal in the final 60 seconds of regulation to send New York Soccer Club into overtime in the final of the first-ever EDP Cup. After being pulled out from goal, he returned to protect the cage in the penalty shooting. He stopped three penalty kicks, preserving a hard-fought team victory.

This summer, Santucci and Enzo embarked on a trip to Belgium and Spain, where they trained with elite level professional teams. The quality of play was flaw-free, the intensity was amplified.

Without the early hype or hyperbole, Santucci already seems on target to become one of the more decorated players in Yorktown history.

In this 2.5 square mile area, the grass-roots programs have churned out plenty of mid to high-major prospects.

The most acclaimed product of the Yorktown Youth Soccer Program has been Kevin Reiman, a McDonald's All-American who played at Michigan State.

Reiman, a cerebral left-footed middie who coached at Division-I Army, would prolong his career professionally with Real Salt Lake.

Lakeland, Yorktown High's staunch border-town rival, features a high-scoring playmaker in Johnny Denis.

As in, the Johnny Denis who happens to be Santucci's second cousin. Denis made headlines this past week, depositing five goals and dealing out an assist in the Hornets' 6-3 win over Panas. With the five goals, Denis established a new school record.

"We're so competitive out there all the time," Santucci said.

"On the field, we get really intense and it gets fiery. But we know it's really for our own benefit and we both try to make each other the best we can be. All three of us, myself, Jon and Enzo, we're constantly looking to make each other better."

Denis has gone from free kick specialist to a diversified offensive threat, shredding teams off the dribble and knifing through defenders.

Both Denis, Enzo Santucci entertain a demanding year-round soccer schedule and are constantly hiking up each other's competitive juices.

You may have seen Denis' name circulating the blogosphere or found in soccer notebooks canvassing "who's who" in Westchester County. The junior popped four goals in the Hornets' recent 7-1 whipping of Middletown.

Is Santucci the greatest or simply the latest? While he reeks of promise and upside, he's so young that you simply can't gauge him or determine the limit (if there is one) on his potential.

"Ultimately, my goal would be to play professional soccer," Santucci said.

 "That's what I'm looking to do. That's my personal aspiration and dream and that's what I'm working at."