A versatile performer from the Illinois prep ranks, Santino Panico (pronounced Pan-EE-coe) is one of two Husker newcomers from Illinois, the home state of Head Coach Bill Callahan.
Panico lined up at several positions on both sides of the ball during his prep career and helped Libertyville High School to a 13-1 record and a state runner-up finish in Class 7A (second largest), losing in double-overtime to Oswego in the state title game in 2003.
Panico scored 23 touchdowns and accounted for more than 2,000 total yards, including 1,300 rushing yards and 550 receiving yards. Of his 23 touchdowns, 20 were by rush, including 18 of 30 yards or longer. He also scored touchdowns by reception, interception (school-record 85-yarder) and by punt return for Coach Randy Kuceyeski's squad. Panico also started on defense for four years, playing defensive back and linebacker and saw extensive action on special teams. He had 72 tackles, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and two recoveries as a senior.
Panico earned Illinois Gatorade Player-of-the-Year honors and was a first-team all-state selection by the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, The News Gazette, The Pioneer Press-News and the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association. He also earned all-area and all-conference honors. Panico was one of three Husker newcomers to play in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in early January in San Antonio, where he played defensive back and wide receiver.
Panico earned All-America honors from PrepStar and Reebok and was a USA Today honorable-mention All-American. As a junior, Panico gained over 1,100 yards of total offense and scored 13 touchdowns. He won the 2003 Chris Zorich Award, given to the top Chicago area prep player on and off the field.
A solid member of the community, Panico worked with mentally impaired children as part of the "Best Buddies" program and gave motivational speeches to Chicago area elementary schools.
Panico chose Nebraska over Indiana, South Carolina, Ball State and Eastern Michigan. The son of Anthony and Deanna Panico, Santino was born in Chicago on Feb. 7, 1986. He plans to major in psychology at Nebraska.