The defender was playing for Barnet against Evatt’s Barrow in the FA Trophy last February when he replaced Josh Walker in the latter stages to see out a 3-0 score-line.
Speaking in an interview with The Sun, Santos said the impression he made off the bench was enough to convince his current boss to make him one of his first new signings after taking over at the University of Bolton Stadium.
“I’d played the last 15 minutes. Ian had put a quick winger on and kept telling the lad, ‘Get at him’ but the Barnet management told him, ‘No chance.’ Ian said, ‘We’ll see.’ “But as the boy on the left tried to take me on, I beat him for pace and strength and he said, ‘Wow.’ “Since then he was interested in me and he contacted me at the end of last season asking me to come to Bolton.”
Santos has racked up 3,360 minutes on the pitch in League Two for Wanderers this season – comfortably more than anyone else in the squad. Eoin Doyle (2,959) and Nathan Delfouneso (2,600) are his nearest competitors.
The big defender can recall a time when things were not going so well on the pitch, however, when soon after leaving Peterborough a few years ago he found himself unable to walk into the training ground at Barnet.
“I had tendonitis and did what Ledley King used to do at Tottenham. I’d train once a week on Friday and then play Saturday and be in the gym for the rest of the week,” he said.
“I was doing that for a while and my knee started hurting seriously. I couldn’t even walk. I thought, ‘I can’t do this anymore’ so sat out and did rehab for eight or nine months.
“Thankfully it’s all good now and I’m the only Bolton player to have not missed a minute of league action this season.”
This summer sees the 20th anniversary of Wanderers’ play-off win against Preston North End, and the start of their longest unbroken spell as a Premier League club.
That came to an end in 2012 – and Wanderers have since contested a whopping 427 games outside the top division in all competitions, winning just 30.44 per cent.
It is hoped that the recent upturn in form under Evatt will be a first step on the long road back to that level of football – but Santos is able to appreciate the legacy of Bolton’s glory years, recalling his first visit in the summer.
“I hadn't even been to Bolton’s ground before and the first time I visited I thought, ‘This is crazy.' It was mad,” he said. “Even though the club are in League Two, everything is still Premier League standard. I couldn’t wait to get started.”
Rewarded with a contract extension this season and backed by Evatt to play at a much higher level of football in the future, Santos has certainly found his feet as a Bolton player.
If Wanderers are now on their way back – then the 25-year-old would definitely like to be a part of it.
“With the history this club has and to be able to do that and be liked by the manager, I’d love it,” he said.
“Bolton will one day get back to the Premier League. The set-up is Premier League and the owners want to build and don’t mind spending money to get in players. I want to be part of that journey. We’re going the right way.”