LAWRENCE — While you're sending text messages, taking bathroom breaks, running to the fridge for another beer or sticking more nachos in the oven, Brandon Santell will be glued to the television during the Super Bowl, his eyes riveted on Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower and how he plays the game.
For Santell, a Lawrence High School senior and All-Star linebacker on the school's varsity football team, watching the New England Patriots is more than a pleasant pastime. It's also his dream of a future in the National Football League unfolding play-by-play on the TV at the South Union Street home where he lives with his mom and younger brother.
Santell, 17, already is taking steps to make a future in football happen. He's scrambling for athletic scholarships at a few colleges in Connecticut with the hope that four more years of the game wherever he enrolls in September will make him good enough for an NFL team, maybe even the Patriots.
“I've watched every (Patriots) game since 2005,” Santell said following wrestling practice at the high school gym earlier this week.
His timing was good: The Patriots went to the Superbowl that year, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles 24-21.
“I have vivid memories," he said. "My family going crazy when they won. We watched at my Uncle Chap's house.”
Santell was 4 years old at the time. He was hooked.
A few years later, he played his first league games with the Junior Maulers, a city team. Three years after that, he advanced to the Hurricanes, another city team for older players.
Next, he was a 180-pound linebacker as a freshman on the high school varsity team. He played through his senior year this year, when he had 75 tackles and forced 11 fumbles. He also played offense as a running back this year, scoring eight touchdowns in 10 games.
The Merrimack Valley Conference, Division 1, named him defensive player of the year last year. The Eagle-Tribune named him a defensive All Star.
Santell also is on Lawrence High's wrestling team (34 wins, one loss) and track team (the hundred yard dash in 12.8 seconds).
Then there's his size. At 17, Santell is 6 feet, 1 inch tall and 220 pounds.
It's all muscle.
But Santell said what he brings most to football, beyond his size and his skill at sacking quarterbacks, is his ability to read plays, or to predict what the team across the scrimmage line will do with the ball based on things like how it lines up for the snap and where the ball is on the field.
“I take my studying seriously,” he said, referring to the hours spent watching videos of other teams' formations in earlier games. “The best thing I know is my ability to read plays, which I know (Patriots coach) Bill Belichick likes.”
Like every Patriots fan, Santell thinks quarterback Tom Brady walks on water.
But when the ball is snapped, his eyes move to linebacker Hightower, watching his game for tips on defense and blocking, and for clues about his own future.
“I look at his game and I try to balance my game like that. Every little thing about the position. The reads, knowing the play before the snap even happens. The motions. The formations," Santell said.
“Hightower plays the position the right way,” he continued. "The way I'd want to. I hope I can continue doing it and hopefully one day play for the Patriots. That's my goal. My big goal.”