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UND FOOTBALL: Running back John Santiago takes lessons to Washington of Fighting Hawks' FBS past

SEATTLE -- John Santiago can even remember the first song he heard coming out on the field as a freshman at Wyoming's War Memorial Stadium. "It was Rich Homie Quan -- Ooh, ooh," UND's senior running back said. The game marked Santiago's surprise ...

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UND's Garett Maag and John Santiago (right) celebrate a touchdown during the Hawks' season-opening win over Mississippi Valley State last week. UND takes on No. 9 Washington on Saturday in Seattle. Photo/Nick Nelson, Grand Forks Herald

SEATTLE -- John Santiago can even remember the first song he heard coming out on the field as a freshman at Wyoming’s War Memorial Stadium.

“It was Rich Homie Quan -- Ooh, ooh,” UND’s senior running back said.

The game marked Santiago’s surprise coming out party. Injuries in fall camp forced the wide receiver to move to tailback, and he ran for 148 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-13 victory over Wyoming.

That was the Fighting Hawks’ lone shining moment on the FBS stage. UND is 1-9 in FBS games.

Regardless of the outcome, today will mark another historic moment. UND will play its toughest opponent in program history when the Fighting Hawks visit No. 9 Washington at 4 p.m. at Husky Stadium in Seattle.

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With games against Wyoming, Bowling Green (2016) and Utah (2017), Santiago -- the FCS’ active career leader in all-purpose yards -- has taken away some lessons from the games against the higher level.

“What I’ve learned over the last three years of going up against FBS opponents is you can only worry about yourself,” he said. “That’s our motto week to week, but especially in these games. We have to execute to the highest of our potential -- rather than worry about what they can do.”

Washington was ranked No. 6 in the FBS in Week 1, losing to Auburn in Atlanta. The Huskies, though, remain national title contenders and boast a roster full of future NFL talent.

“In this caliber, you have to maximize your opportunities when they make a mistake,” Santiago said. “We’ll go like any other game and play our hardest. They bring a lot to the table. They have a lot of talent, obviously.

“We’ll play against guys who are better than us sometimes, but that doesn’t mean they’re the better team on that day. You never know. That’s the beauty of the game of football. All we have to worry about is our effort.”

The matchup with Washington could also mark the end of an era in terms of UND’s FBS scheduling philosophy.

Whether it was UND’s move from the western-based Big Sky Conference to the midwest’s Missouri Valley Football Conference (starting in 2020) or just the change in coaching staff, the Fighting Hawks’ schedule outlook is shifting east.

The only other FBS matchup in the west for UND is Utah State in 2021. UND is scheduled to play Kansas State in 2020, Nebraska in 2022, Iowa State in 2024, Missouri in 2025 and Nebraska again in 2026.

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UND at Washington When: Saturday, 4 p.m.

Where: Seattle

TV/RADIO: Pac 12 Network, 96.1 FM

Records: UND 1-0; Washington 0-1

Of note: UND is 1-9 against FBS opponents in the program’s Division I era.
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Related Topics: UND FOOTBALL
Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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