Ask Sam Santiago-Lloyd about the numerous accomplishments he's racked up in his high-school career and he will deflect the question. crediting his teammates for his success. It is just who he is, a humble superstar.
But even if he won't say it, the numbers speak for themselves. Santiago-Lloyd will go down as one of the best players in suburban Milwaukee prep football history.
Santiago-Lloyd is the Now Newspapers All-Suburban Player of the Year for the second consecutive season after recovering from an early-season ankle injury to rush for 1,861 yards and 27 touchdowns to lead Brookfield East to the WIAA Division 2 state championship.
He is just the second player to ever win All-Suburban Player of the Year outright in two straight years, joining Sussex Hamilton's Matt Unertl (1994-95). Greendale's Josh Ringelberg won the award outright in 2013 and shared the honor in 2014.
"He’s incredibly humble and down to earth," Brookfield East coach Ben Farley said. "He did some absolutely amazing things in his four years at the varsity level. At times, he put us on his shoulders. You wouldn’t know it by how he goes about himself and how down to earth and humble he is."
Coming off a junior season in which he accumulated 2,251 yards and scored 31 touchdowns, Santiago-Lloyd suffered an ankle injury in the third game of the year against West Allis Central on Sept. 2.
There was a point in which the Spartans feared they had lost their star running back for the season. But overcoming an injury wasn't anything new to Santiago-Lloyd, as he broke his collarbone after gaining 253 yards in two games as a sophomore.
"That was difficult because I felt so bad for Sam," Farley said. "But you have to have patience as a coach and patience as a student-athlete to realize there was a lot of season left."
Santiago-Lloyd likely would have sat out had the Spartans played any other opponent the following week, but Brookfield Central was next on the schedule. Despite barely being able to put any pressure on the ankle, he tried to play through the injury but was shut down after gaining just 11 yards on five attempts in Brookfield East's 43-16 loss to the Lancers.
"It was a little setback, I guess, but I knew I had most of the season left," Santiago-Lloyd said."The guys were still supporting me, and I knew that I could get back out on the field and make an impact. Especially when we played Brookfield Central immediately, it was tough waiting. I wasn't very patient. But everything happens for a reason."
He then missed Brookfield East's game against Wauwatosa East before to carry the ball 22 times for 82 yards against Menomonee Falls on Sept. 30. It wasn't until a 20-17 overtime loss to Marquette in which he ran 45 times for 203 yards and two touchdowns that he felt fully healthy.
It was no coincidence that's also when the Spartans began to hit their stride.
"I just didn't think about it," Santiago-Lloyd said of the Marquette game. "I just went out there and played. Once I got my mind off of it, everything started clicking."
Becoming a champion
Santiago-Lloyd rushed for 1,433 yards and 21 scores over Brookfield East's last seven games and piled up 868 yards and 14 scores in four playoff games.
It became fitting that his final game in a Spartans uniform may have been his best. Despite suffering an arch injury in his foot during the state semifinal that prevented him from practicing, he ran for 197 yards and an all-division state-championship game record five touchdowns to lead Brookfield East to its first-ever state football title with a 42-36 win over Monona Grove.
"In order to do something special, you have to have high-character kids," Farley said. "Sam is the definition of that. He’s a great captain that leads by example but is a vocal leader to our younger guys."
What's next for Santiago-Lloyd remains uncertain. But his legacy at Brookfield East is certain after finishing with 4,743 rushing yards and 65 touchdowns despite playing in just eight total games as a freshman and a sophomore.
"I don’t know what’s in my near future," Santiago-Lloyd said. "Hopefully soon, I’ll find out. God’s timing. Everything will fall in place where it should. I’m not really worried about it. Everything happens for a reason.
"I’m going to miss everybody in this community, all the support we had. Everybody that fought through it with us. This program has been through a lot. For us to even come to state was big, but winning it was huge."