Oct. 17, 2013
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist | @GrinzOnGreen
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Mike Sadler doesn't employ terms like "falling inflection point" while describing any of the 12 different punts he may use in a game for Michigan State.
But, he could.
In fact, when Sadler takes the field, he makes sure he's disconnected from the academic prowess that has allowed him to earn an engineering sciences degree with a 3.97 grade-point average in three years and begin his pursuit of a Ph.D. in economics.
"The worst thing you can do is over-think a kick," said Sadler, a red-shirt junior. "I just go out and try to kick it high and far."
Sadler's simple approach worked so well in last Saturday's 42-28 win against Indiana, the Big Ten honored him as its Special Teams Player of the Week for the first time this season and the third time in his career.
While breaking the conference single-game record with a 59.3 average - he bested by 2 yards the mark set by Ohio State's Fred Morrison against Wisconsin in 1949 - Sadler skewed field position in MSU's favor.
His 69-yarder in the fourth quarter fell 1-yard shy of tying his career-best against the Buckeyes last season, but pinned the Hoosiers down on their 4-yard line. His other three efforts (a minimum of four are required to be considered for a Big Ten record) traveled 44, 56 and 68 yards.
Sadler leads the Big Ten with a 43.8 average and 41 percent (15 of 34) of his punts have had opponents starting inside of their own 20-yard line.
And while Sadler may rid his mind of negative swing thoughts when he lines up behind center, linebackers and special teams coach Mike Tressel said his intelligent approach to punting can't be denied, especially when it comes to the way he prepares.
"He's done enough work over the course of his entire life that once he does get out there in an actual game situation, it's better to turn off the thoughts and get to the mechanics he's trained himself to have, because he's very fundamentally sound," Tressel said. "But in terms of how we want to approach a particular team, a particular returner, the weather conditions, and having played in Spartan Stadium for four years, and how it affects how he's going to kick the ball, he understands those things better than the average person.
"And he does take all those things into account, so don't let him fool you about using his brain. He has a plan, so when he steps out there he doesn't have to think anymore."
While running the ball on a fake punt Tressel dubbed "Hey Diddle Diddle Send Sadler Up the Middle" at Iowa, Sadler switched to survival mode, but the 25-yard gain helped the Spartans secure a 26-14 victory.
In such situations, Tressel said, "you want to have a person that can make good decisions and over the course of time, he's shown us he can make good decisions."
One future decision will be a no-brainer for Sadler if he gets a chance to make it. The two-time Academic All-American would jump at the chance to become just the third college football player in history to be named a Rhodes Scholar.
Being one of 32 U.S. citizens, and the 17th from MSU, chosen for the honor in 2015 would top any individual achievement Sadler could receive, and that includes the Ray Guy Award and the College Football Performance Awards Punter of the Year Trophy, for his work on the football field.
"Everything's still in the works right now," Sadler said. "I'm not going to actually send in an application until late in the summer or early fall next year. That's when everything get's going. That's just the paper application, but you have to start everything earlier and get the ball rolling through the university to set everything in place.
"It's not something you can do overnight. This is something that takes weeks and months to have a good shot at it. It's hard to put into words what it would mean, but it would be the culmination of all my hard work in the classroom. It's probably one of the biggest honors you can get in this world."
GoG Notes & Quotes: Michigan State co-offensive coordinator Jim Bollman might consider it an awkward situation, if he spent any time pondering it. Bollman was a member of first-year Purdue coach Darrell Hazell's staff for six weeks last winter before seizing the opportunity to rejoin Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio.
The Boilermakers visit MSU on Saturday.
"I suppose, if I had time to stop and think about it, there would be some unusual feelings because honestly, I have not really thought about it much," said Bollman. "But certainly, there were some of those kinds of yearnings at times when you're trying not to let anybody down and do the right thing for everybody.
"But sooner or later, you've still got to make some choices and carry on. To have gone as far back as Mark and I have gone, and the relationship that we've had, and to be able to come here and work for him is very unique and very nice thing for myself and my family."
Bollman and Dantonio coached as assistants together at Youngstown State (1989-90), MSU ('95-'97) and Ohio State (2001-03).
Earlier this week, Hazell said he gave Bollman his blessing when he decided to leave.
"I love the guy," Hazell said.
Michigan State's coaching staff wasn't surprised to hear that senior outside linebacker Denicos Allen and team tackles leader with 35 stops is getting midseason All-Big Ten recognition.
"He's been playing well," Tressel said. "He's always physical, he always has a motor and he's definitely someone in pass protection (blockers) have to point their finger to and be aware of. Upstairs in our office, Denicos isn't overlooked."
Allen is also tied for the team lead in tackles for loss with 5.5 for 16 yards and is third with two sacks.
Dantonio and offensive tackle Fou Fonoti say, "yes."
"I think Connor can create and become a 100-yard rusher much like some other quarterbacks, whether it's running for 30 or 40 yards or scrambling three times for 20 or something of that nature as it naturally occurs," Dantonio said. "I don't think we're going to run him 18 times a game. But at the same time, I do think there is a physicality with him, with his size and his speed that when he does understand what he's got, he'll use it more effectively.
"He could do those things in high school. You saw those things on the tape over and over and over. Those are the things that I think come with game experience. But I think those things happen naturally as a person progresses in his development."
Fonoti would happy to clear a path for Cook.
"With him being so athletic, and knowing he can drop back and pass and also knowing he can lace up his cleats and start running, would be a huge addition to what we're trying to do here," Fonoti said.
Michigan State's tight ends have been becoming gradually more prominent, especially with the blocking of junior Andrew Gleichert.
"We want to make sure the running game is stable and (tight end) is a big part of it and always has been around here," said Bollman, who coaches the position. "He's approached it very studiously and he's always been a very gifted guy in his assignments.
"Of all the guys, he's the most experienced. He's the closest guy, probably that we have, to doing all the aspects of the position of tight end - running some routes, all the different blocks."