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Jonathan Santos leads South East through issues toward title shot

The quarterback keeps Jaguars on path despite fired coach and player suspensions in alleged hazing. South East, in South Gate, won Division II title last year but it was vacated because of an ineligible player.

Eric Sondheimer

10:53 AM PST, November 21, 2012

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When it's time to look back on the high school career of South East quarterback Jonathan Santos, people will remember him as the teenager who was so poised and unyielding at a time of adversity that he inspired teammates and coaches alike.

South Gate South East (11-1) has made it to the City Section Division II semifinals Friday night against San Fernando even though its coach was fired early in the season, its principal was briefly removed and 10 players were suspended, then reinstated, for an alleged hazing incident.

"This season is going to be one we remember forever with all the stuff that's happened," Santos said.

 Through it all, the 6-foot-1 Santos has stood tallest of all, serving as a leader and mentor whenever teammates needed someone to guide them.

 Interim Coach Roger Satti said Santos has been resolute in keeping the Jaguars on a path toward reaching another championship game. He has passed for 2,641 yards and 38 touchdowns in his senior year after passing for 2,967 yards and 35 touchdowns as a junior.

Not bad for someone who was the backup quarterback on the junior varsity team as a sophomore until coach Derwin Henderson decided Santos' intelligence and work ethic deserved to be rewarded with a shot to start on varsity.

 "He has the hardest work ethic," Henderson said. "He studies film like nobody else."

Santos has a quick release and deceptive speed. The graduation of All-City running back Robert Lewis placed the burden on him to guide the Jaguars, and he has delivered.

"When something goes wrong, they look for me to lead them," he said. "I can't get down on myself. If I'm down, they'll go, 'He's not even playing. Why are we going to play?' You have to keep your head up, remain calm, show everybody you're poised and tell them, 'Let's go.'"

South East won the Division II championship last year but the title was vacated because of an ineligible player. Santos wants to help his team earn another berth to next Saturday's final at East Los Angeles College.

 "These last couple of weeks, we have to keep working hard, stay focused and hopefully come out with another CIF title," he said.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com