Legendary NFL kicker and former New Orleans Saint Morten Andersen presented Santos with the 21st Groza Award.
Santos, who was named a finalist along with Florida’s Caleb Sturgis and Florida State’s Dustin Hopkins, completed one of the finest campaigns by a kicker in NCAA history by finishing a perfect 21-of-21 on field goal attempts.
He was named to the All-Conference USA First Team and joined 1996 Groza winner Marc Primanti as the only kickers in Football Bowl Subdivision history to stay perfect throughout a season in which they attempted 20 or more field goals. But Santos finished with one more make than Primanti, who was 20-of-20 in 1996.
“I think if you look at the replay, you can see I was in complete shock when they called my name for the award,” Santos said in a Tulane University release. “It was great to be on the same stage as Dustin Hopkins and Caleb Sturgis as finalists. They are two of the finest individuals I have ever met. I am in shock but so happy at the same time. This is a tremendous honor, and I am very grateful, but it would not have been possible without my coaches and teammates, especially my holder, Ryan Rome, and deep snapper, Billy Johnson. This award is for each of them as well. I would also like to thank the Lou Groza Award committee and the Palm Beach County Sports Commission.”
Santos, who hails from Sao Paulo, Brazil, but prepped as an exchange student at St. Joseph’s Academy in St. Augustine, Fla., is the second Green Wave kicker to receive the nation’s top place-kicking honor, joining All-American Seth Marler, who claimed the Groza Trophy in 2001.
Santos is now the fourth kicker from Conference USA to win the Lou Groza Award, joining Marler, Cincinnati’s Jonathan Ruffin in 2000 and Southern Miss’ Danny Hrapmann in 2010.
“Cairo is a fantastic guy and very deserving of this honor after all the hard work he put into this past season,” Tulane head coach Curtis Johnson said in the university’s release. “Whatever he says he can do, and it’s unbelievable to have a young man who was able to overcome all the distractions we had this season and put together a perfect season. It’s tough to be perfect in anything, but Cairo did it. He’s very important to us and to our program, and I am very happy for him.”
Santos, who also connected 27-of-28 point-after attempts, led the nation with 12, 40-plus yard field goals, including a pair of 50-yarders, and set the school record with a 57-yarder vs. Rice, which tied for the fourth longest in the nation this season.
He also nailed a 54-yarder against the University of Louisiana-Monroe.
Santos led C-USA in field goal percentage at 1.000, field goals per game at 1.75 and ranked eighth nationally in field goals per game.
He was fifth in C-USA in kicking points scored at 89, kicking points per game at 7.4, sixth in point-after attempts’ percentage at .963 and seventh in overall points per game at 7.4.