“The most important play in football is the punt,” Jim Tressel stated during his tenure at Ohio State.
Mark Dantonio agrees. “I think that’s probably the most important single play in football,” the MSU head coach said during one November press conference.
Oft-ignored but much-needed, the punter is one of the quietest impact players on a football field. One might argue that Michigan State punter Mike Sadler is one of the team’s most overlooked, but most valuable, players.
The junior All American provided perfect punts throughout the season when called upon. Sadler booted the ball 70 times for an average of 42.3 yards. He leads the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) with 22 punts downed inside the 10-yard line, and ranks third in the nation with 29 punts placed inside the 20. Though his yards per punt average places him 41st in the nation, Sadler is near the top in effectiveness.
Despite playing a critical role in helping the Spartans reach the Rose Bowl, many did not take notice of his outstanding season. Sadler was one of 10 Ray Guy semifinalists, but did not make the finalist cut. The happy-go-lucky Sadler brushed it off with class. But it’s hard not to feel slighted when you’re passed up.
Sadler recently sat down and shared his thoughts on the topic with Hondo S. Carpenter, Sr.
Postseason awards are handed out with the best of intentions to reward the best players in the country. But determining the recipients of these honors often becomes difficult. How does one pick the best running back or punter out of nearly 130 FBS schools?
Sometimes the method of choosing the winner relies too much on stats. One such example is the Ray Guy Award, which has been given to the nation’s best punter at the conclusion of each season since 2000. As the award’s website notes, “a national voting body of sports writers, college coaches, sports information directors and past Ray Guy Award winners” chooses the recipient.
But despite being near the top of many statistical categories in effectiveness, Sadler did not find himself among the three Ray Guy Award finalists.
“Obviously I wasn’t thrilled with it,” Sadler said. “If you look at the Ray Guy award, and obviously no disrespect to them, they have a tendency to maybe use the wrong metrics in evaluating punters. They overlook the overall effectiveness and put an emphasis on pure distance.”
Though he handled the snub with class, Sadler does not agree with the process. He believes that stats should not be the only measure used to pick a winner. The junior feels that those who select the honoree must take other factors into consideration.
“Especially with punting and quarterback play, it’s really hard to judge people by numbers alone,” Sadler said. “You can’t really evaluate a punter just by looking at their stats. With that being said, I’m not sure if they chose the most effective punters in the country. Credit the people who did make it, they’re still great punters in their own right.
“I think it’s interesting to see that no Ray Guy award winner has really had a successful career in the NFL for more than two or three years because they tend to pick these kids who … have inflated averages and don’t really know how to handle the elements. That doesn’t really translate well into the NFL.”
Sadler has a point. Of the 11 Ray Guy Award winners from 2000 to 2012, only one (‘11 and ‘12 winner Ryan Allen of the Patriots) is in the NFL. Only three had NFL careers that lasted longer than a season.
Sadler did receive other postseason recognition, though. The Grand Rapids, Mich. native was named a First-Team All-American by both ESPN.com and CBSSports.com.
“It did mean a lot to me to get some kind of recognition, but you don’t set out to be a punter because you want recognition,” Sadler said. “If that was the case, I would have stuck with chess club and won individual tournaments by myself. But the important thing is, we’re going to Pasadena for the first time in 26 years, and I’d give any individual honors to be able to say that.”
If a player’s sense of humor was taken into account when award season rolls around, Sadler would have a much larger list of accolades. Anyone who follows the MSU punter on Twitter knows Sadler’s unique brand of humor. The junior routinely makes headlines for his comical Twitter antics.
Sadler uses Twitter as an outlet to keep his followers and teammates laughing. He often tags defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi in his tweets, giving even his coaches some laughs. But Sadler always remembers not to cross the line.
“Twitter is an outlet for me to have fun with everybody, but you have to be appropriate, keep it clean,” Sadler said. “You don’t know who’s following you, you don’t want to be a bad influence for any young kids out there. So you just want to keep it as clean as you can.”
Punters are known as quiet personalities on and off the field, as players who don’t often make much of an impact. Mike Sadler is an exception. An excellent punter, Sadler deserves every bit of recognition he does and does not receive. Such a special teams weapon can make a large impact in the postseason, as Mark Dantonio and the Spartans well know.