Starting senior slotback Aaron Santiago is out indefinitely following surgery today for a broken forearm suffered in Navy’s 40-14 victory over Western Kentucky, Coach Ken Niumatalolo said after this afternoon’s practice.

The injury occurred during the final series of the first half of Saturday’s game in Bowling Green, Ky., on a hit from safety Ryan Beard. Santiago had scored on a four-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to give the Midshipmen a 27-7 lead.

The earliest Santiago could be back on the field is for the Army game on Dec. 10, but given that he broke his arm in two places, that’s an optimistic outlook.

“He’s been a great leader, unbelievable academically,” Niumatalolo said. “He’s been a model of what we’re looking for here at the academy. He’s done great on the field. He’s been a quiet leader.”

The loss of Santiago comes the week before Navy is set to play on the road against South Carolina, which is ranked 11th in the country and is among the favorites to win the SEC title. The Gamecocks currently are the only ranked opponent the Midshipmen are scheduled to play this season.

Santiago was perhaps Navy’s most versatile slotback. He is third on the team in carries and fifth in rushing as well as third in receiving yards. Santiago’s three total touchdowns are second behind quarterback Kriss Proctor.

Losing Santiago was especially difficult for Niumatalolo, who personally recruited him from Hawaii. Both Niumatalolo and Santiago are from that state.

“I know the road that he’s taken,” Niumatalolo said.

While Santiago’s injury leaves a void in Navy’s backfield, slotback remains among the team’s deepest positions. Juniors Gee Gee Greene, John Howell and Bo Snelson all have been a part of the offense.

Howell probably will start against South Carolina, and Snelson figures to have his workload increase the most in Santiago’s absence.

“You don’t care who gets the ball,” Niumatalolo said. “You don’t look up and say, ‘Oh, he’s getting the ball or he’s getting the pitch.’ We don’t care who we throw it to. We don’t care who catches the passes. We have faith in all of them.”