Better late than never for Dalton Santos

AUSTIN, Texas -- Even if it makes him question all of his plans and goals, and even if it couldn’t have come any later, Dalton Santos is still happy.

The scholarship offer he received from Texas on Saturday was one he’s sought for a long time. Now that it’s finally here, the Van (Texas) linebacker has a lot on his mind.

“This is great, no doubt about it,” Santos said. “Texas is Texas. It gives me something to think about, for sure, because I grew up a Texas fan and I live in Texas.”

Yes, the Under Armour All-American is still verbally committed to Tennessee. But Texas’ late push to snag ESPNU’s No. 1 inside linebacker prospect is one Santos certainly welcomes.

Santos is open to reconsidering his college choice. He has been ever since Tennessee linebackers coach Peter Sirmon and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox left to take jobs at Washington.

“When Sirmon left, I was like, ‘Dang, what am I going to do?’” Santos said. “I started reevaluating and looking at things, started talking to coaches again.”

And Texas, fresh off being eliminated from Mario Edwards’ final three, finally has a spot for Santos in its 2012 recruiting class. That’s what UT offensive line coach Stacy Searels said when he called to make the offer on Saturday night.

Since then, things have moved quickly for Santos. He’s scheduled a visit to Austin this weekend, and he’s hosting Searels, head coach Mack Brown and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz when they visit Van on Wednesday.

Tennessee isn’t giving up without a fight, of course. New defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri will make an in-home visit after the Longhorns coaches on Wednesday night. He called Santos on Sunday evening and attempted to get the Vols’ highest-rated defensive recruit to cancel his Austin trip.

Not a chance. Santos has waited a long time for this opportunity.

“Tennessee is hoping he does not do this visit, but we are going to take it,” his father, Albert Santos, told HornsNation.

Santos likes Sunseri and respects the resume he built as Alabama’s associate head coach and linebackers coach. But the Texas visit is something he just couldn’t pass up.

“You know, it’s my decision,” he said. “If I don’t go (visit) Texas, I know I’ll regret it for the rest of my life. I want to look at it, for sure. Growing up in Texas and being a Texas fan, I want to be able to experience that.”

If he were to join Texas’ class, Santos would find himself among many friends. He played on a team that featured nine Longhorn commits at the Under Armour All-America Game last month.

“I really like those guys -- Malcom (Brown), Peter (Jinkens), Johnathan (Gray), all of them are just really good guys,” Santos said. “We were all on the same flights and everything, so we spent a lot of time together in Orlando. We really got to know each other.”

And Santos does appreciate the role he could play in Diaz’s aggressive defense. Even though the 6-foot-2, 240-pound middle linebacker has been committed elsewhere, he kept an eye on the turnaround Diaz led in his first year in the program.

“They’re just getting a lot better and getting a lot better athletes,” Santos said. “They really get after it. They bring a little more attitude than regular athletes. They play with a little more emotion and are more physical.”

Despite his fondness for Texas and how good it felt to finally get a UT scholarship offer, Santos would still have no qualms with sticking to his pledge to Tennessee. He loves coach Derek Dooley, the atmosphere of the program, the people of Knoxville.

Arkansas, Texas A&M and TCU are still in the picture, too, and Santos insists this isn’t all about wanting to stay close to home. At the end of the day, he said, all he wants is to be happy and comfortable.

Even if he’s suddenly facing a win-win situation, though, Santos can’t help but feel conflicted and even a tad frustrated.

He and his family felt they’d slipped through the cracks of Texas’ recruiting plans when the Longhorns hired new coordinators last year. Now he has their full attention, but only 10 days to make up his mind.

No matter what, though, he’s not going to prolong the big decision until National Signing Day.

“After Wednesday and spending the weekend there, I’m sure he’ll know exactly what he wants to do,” Albert Santos said.

Maybe deep down he already does. But for now, all Santos wants to do is weigh his options and see how this all plays out.

“Things happen for a reason,” he said, “and things are pretty good right now.”