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East Lansing — It's going to be difficult for Michigan State to replace Mike Sadler.

And only some of that has to do with everything the fifth-year senior has accomplished on the field.

Most of it will be the fact there hasn't been a football player that has had as much fun, particularly on social media, than Sadler.

After Oregon's Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy, Sadler showed his disappointment.

"Congrats to Marcus Mariota on beating me twice in the same year. #bitter," he said, referencing the fact Oregon beat Michigan State in the second week of the season.

It was just an example of Sadler's humor. Earlier this season he had a back-and-forth with the FauxPelini account, a parody of then Nebraska coach Bo Pelini that included a picture of the coach with a cat. When Sadler pinned a punt deep in the Cornhuskers' end of the field in Michigan State's victory this year, he walked off the field petting an imaginary cat.

And as Michigan State prepares to face Baylor in the Cotton Bowl, Sadler had reporters laughing once again talking about his hopes of playing in the NFL someday, a path that is a bit different for punters.

"You don't see us going down to the IMG Academy," Sadler said. "If my draft stock hinges on my 40 time, I'm screwed."

The humor, however, is just one part of Sadler. And as much fun as he has, he just as serious about football and life after the game.

He has been Michigan State's punter for four consecutive seasons, was named first-team All-Big Ten twice and has been a semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award. On top of that, Sadler also earned Academic All-America honors four times, becoming the first Spartan student-athlete to accomplish that feat.

"That is really special to me, more important than anything I've done on the field," Sadler said. "Just because that stuff is lifelong. Football success is fleeting. Five years from now people are not gonna remember who I am, so just to be able to have that education and take it seriously is really important to me."

Sadler already has his degree in applied engineering and has one class left in the spring to finish his master's degree in public policy. After that, he'll be looking into law school.

But he's not counting out a shot at the NFL. It seemed more likely early in his career, but knee surgery in the spring has limited him this season.

His average of 41.3 yards a punt was worse than his previous two seasons. But Sadler said he has slowly been gaining the strength back in his legs and believes there is at least a chance at the next level.

"I think if you play this game at this level you do it because you love it," Sadler said. "That is something I'll try to do and will spend this spring trying to improve as much as I can and hopefully have some kind of shot."

As for his final game as a Spartan, Sadler is convinced special teams will play a big role in the Cotton Bowl, especially in trying to put Baylor in bad field position.

"It's definitely one of the best games of the bowl season," Sadler said. "I think it's a good opportunity for the defense to step up, and special teams will be a pretty big play in this game, too. We're excited to go down there and hopefully come back with a win."

If that happens, there seems little doubt Sadler will play a big part in it, taking care of field position and keeping his teammates loose.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau

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