Posted: 3:30 pm Saturday, September 22nd, 2012

Santaluces’ surprising start surprising to everyone but Santaluces 

By Matt Porter

When the contenders in District 13-7A are discussed, Santaluces is never in the conversation. Winning two games last year and facing traditionally strong programs like Dwyer, Atlantic and Royal Palm Beach means they get picked to lose when it counts.

Santaluces players and coaches huddle before a 2011 game at Lake Worth. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

Santaluces players and coaches huddle before a 2011 game at Lake Worth. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

They’re reminded of this in the hallways of school, on social media and in the stands at visiting schools.

“They’ve all got a chip on our shoulder. We all do,” Santaluces coach Daryl Drinkwater said. “We know the only way we can change things is to go knock people in the mouth on the field.”

But whether anyone realizes it or not, the Chiefs (2-1) are taking big steps forward this season. Friday’s 26-13 win on the road at No. 8 Atlantic was the latest.

“We’re pretty good,” Drinkwater said. “We don’t think we shocked them at all. We fully expected to win that game. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Atlantic is bad, but we’ve been the more physical team in every game we’ve played this year.”

The Chiefs competed with No. 5 Park Vista in a 14-0 season-opening loss on the road. They responded with a 37-6 win over Palm Beach Lakes. After a bye, they soundly beat Atlantic on the road.

Standout players like quarterback Qwad Martin (Park Vista) and lineman Nickedel Pierre (Palm Beach Central) have transferred out in recent seasons. This year, Santaluces has benefited from the addition of quarterback Sean Steele (Lake Worth), who was 6-of-18 for 143 yards and three touchdowns against Atlantic. One of those TD passes was to 6-foot-4, 190-pound junior Darrell Langham, who came over from American Heritage.

Senior running back Diocemy Saint Juste (5-9, 185), who came over from Atlantic before his junior season, has been a core player along with senior tight end Rico Jean Louis (6-3, 190), who had 85 yards and two touchdowns on four catches in the Atlantic win.

Santaluces’ strength is its defense, which returned six starters and has allowed 33 points in three games. Senior linebackers Artez Fulton (5-11, 235), a four-year starter, and Rod Theodore (5-9, 170) have played well, as expected. Junior cornerback Bernard Eberhardt, who put Santaluces up 13-7 over Atlantic with a 78-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter, anchors a young secondary.

“It takes a while to build a program, but we’re on the right track,” said the 29-year-old Drinkwater, who is 14-19 in his fourth year at Santaluces. “We’re playing the style of football we want, which is physical.

Next up is a critical district test against Royal Palm Beach (1-1), which looked like it returned to form Friday in a 15-6 win over No. 7 Palm Beach Central. Last year, the Chiefs lost 55-19 to Royal Palm a week after losing 25-6 to Atlantic.

Santaluces is home for Royal Palm and its Oct. 5 game against Lake Worth, before playing at Dwyer Oct. 12. Last year, the Chiefs lost to Lake Worth and Dwyer by a combined 87-28 score.

“Everyone wants to talk about last year,” Drinkwater said. “Last year we had five sophomores starting on varsity. We knew last year was the year for us to get the experience we needed to compete.

“I’m not saying we’re world-beaters, but we’re a pretty good football team.”