When Spartan Nation broke the story that Mike Sadler had committed to play football at Michigan State people were happy. When they learned how good he was they were ecstatic. The young man said no to Nick Saban at Alabama. He looked long at Les Miles and LSU before saying no thanks and even laughed at Lane Kiffin of USC who called on signing day eve to offer him the kicking and punting duties.
This star of the 2010 recruiting class red shirted one year and never looked back. He won Big Ten First Team punter of the year last year and was a freshman All American in 2011. He isnâ€™t good, he is great. What makes Sadler special is not what he does on the field. It is easy to see what he accomplishes on the field, but make no mistake football is what he loves and enjoys, but it isnâ€™t who he is.
I caught up with him recently. We talked about after the amazing year he had in what was a disappointing season for the team, what did he do to get better this off season? â€œIâ€™ve put on about 20 pounds since last season so Iâ€™m feeling good physically. Just a lot of technique work. And I think the biggest thing coming off of last season was just the confidence boost with all the post season accolades. Usually that stuff doesnâ€™t mean a whole lot, but confidence-wise it does. So thatâ€™s good moving forward to have.â€
Special teams were not a highlight last year for MSU. There were some bright spots other than Sadler, but he was the shining star. Dantonio puts a major emphasis on the special teams, so does Sadler expect to see even more attention given to the third part of the game? â€œIâ€™m expecting even more time to be put into the special aspect team of it. I thought we had a good game plan for the most part last year, it was just a lack of execution at some point. So as long as we just pay attention to details and that kind of stuff in the off season I think we should be all right.â€
The MSU staff is going to experiment with some new blocking/coverage schemes this spring and look at every aspect of the special units. Sadler obviously doesnâ€™t do them all, but does he like the new looks? â€œI honestly donâ€™t even need to know the blocking schemes. I do, but I thought they were pretty good last year. We had one blocked against Ohio State and that was just an execution error. So I think all the plans we have in place are pretty good. We just gotta execute.â€
What makes this young man special is his approach not only to the game, but to life. With a monster 2012 campaign behind him, he still isnâ€™t happy. This glass half empty young man canâ€™t see the accolades he just sees flaws. â€œWell I need to be more consistent. I can think of a couple punts off the top of my head in a bowl game, I had a 16 yarder against Iowa, 17- yarder. You take those out of there then youâ€™re in a lot better spot moving forward. So I just need to be a little bit more consistent. Yeah, move on from there.â€
It is that approach to life that has helped Sadler become the nationâ€™s best punter heading into the 2013 season. It is also that approach that has him two and a half years into his college career already in a Doctorate program. Sadler was so far advanced in high school that when he arrived he was already well into his sophomore season with credits.
He has concerned coaches at time with his course load, but when I asked about last year he told me, â€œI am a student athlete. I know that some laugh at the term, but I donâ€™t. I can handle both. One of the many reasons I wanted to play for Coach Dantonio is that all the coaches who recruited me from MSU talked about academics. That was not the case around the nation with everyone. They are about school first at MSU and I am as well. I love that Coach Dantonio wants to be the best football team in the country with our record on the field and our grades.â€
Sadler doesnâ€™t embrace being a student athlete, he embodies it.
He said of his Doctoral program that, â€œIâ€™m very excited to be in the Doctorate program in Economics here.â€ He came to MSU wanting to be an engineer so where does economics fit it? â€œEngineering was a good place to start, but I think I wanna do something more in the economics field. But itâ€™s just a testament to my parents, the Student Athletes Support Services and Coach D for their dedication to the academic portion of it.â€
Sadlerâ€™s parents, David and Karen are the reason he is the way he is. They are supportive in what he wants, but driving forces in a good way to see him get it. His father David told me last year, â€œI canâ€™t imagine being more proud. Not just about football. I am proud of who my son is.â€
Mikeâ€™s mother Karen is a unique in her own way. This adoring mother has had to watch him emotionally, physical and mentally grow into an amazing young man in such a short time since he left home for East Lansing. She told me recently, â€œI will tell you that Michael is his own man. I didnâ€™t need him to be a good football player to make me proud, I need him to be a good man and he is.â€
Perhaps Sadlerâ€™s personal side comes out best when talking about his little sister Katie. She followed in her big brothers steps and chose MSU as well. Equally a great student she is also the lady who brings a twinkle to her brotherâ€™s eye. They are close and although he can be the over protective big brother football player, his devotion and love for her is admirable. I am a father and I can tell you that any parent would be jealous of the care and devotion he has for her.
Mike bragged on his little sister Katie recently saying, â€œShe is already here (at MSU). Working in a psych lab analyzing brain functions as a freshman.â€ Her big brother couldnâ€™t be prouder.
It is when Sadler smiles and he does often that you truly remember how young he is. He still has the sheepish look that reminds any parent of the innocence of eighth grade. I asked about some of his teammates chiding, â€œThe Doctor.â€ He flashed that smile and said, â€œWeâ€™ll see. Weâ€™ll see. If I could just get Mike for right now I think that would be pretty good. But weâ€™ll see.â€
With only two years of football eligibility left the young scholar thinks he can have all the course work of a Doctorate done when his career is over. â€œAlthough the course will be completed Iâ€™m gonna have to come back and do a dissertation on my own time, which should be feasible whether itâ€™s the NFL or some other job. Iâ€™ll probably be able to find time for that. But Iâ€™ll have all the coursework done.â€
Spartan Nation broke the story last year that Sadlerâ€™s academics are so good that he has a legitimate shot at a Rhodes scholarship. I asked if that was still in the cards. â€œYeah, thatâ€™s still in the cards. Obviously I think I have a couple more doors open for me now than I did a few years ago in terms of football. So just trying to keep doors open and see where it takes me.â€
Sadler has come a long ways. Sadlerâ€™s progress is not only as a football player, but as a young man as well. I asked him with all of his success on and off the field personally, was he able to enjoy it even though 2012 didnâ€™t meet expectations for the program? By now his answer wonâ€™t shock you. He said, â€œItâ€™s bittersweet. Itâ€™s always good to do well personally, but at the same time it doesnâ€™t mean anything if the teams struggling. Ya know, weâ€™re not in the Rose Bowl no oneâ€™s happy. Football isnâ€™t about Mike Sadler, itâ€™s about Michigan State. Team goals are the most important.â€
That is why Sadler is one of the elite in the nation, on the field, in the classroom and as a young man. Good for youâ€¦Doc!