Dantonio on Sadler: ‘We’ll miss him terribly’

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Mike Sadler and Mark Dantonio in 2013.

Chicago – Mark Dantonio talked football on Tuesday morning, but there was little doubt the loss of former punter Mike Sadler was weighing heavily on the Michigan State coach.

Sadler, a four-time Academic All-American who graduated in 2014, was killed in car accident on Saturday night in Wisconsin at the age of 24. Nebraska punter Sam Foltz also died in the one-car crash.

“We’ll miss him terribly,” Dantonio said as he took the podium for his 10-minute session at Big Ten media days.

From there, it was all football, but moments later outside the Regency Ballroom at the McCormick Place, Dantonio recalled how he was headed home from the same event in 2009 when he found out Sadler would be a Spartan.

“I was at a McDonald’s when he committed,” Dantonio recalled. “I told my wife, ‘We’ve got an unbelievable guy coming to Michigan State.”

What followed was a memorable career for the graduate of Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern High. Sadler was an All-American in 2013 and ranks among Michigan State’s all-time leaders in punts (second, 268) and punting yards (second, 11,307). He was a member of Michigan State’s 2013 Big Ten champions that went on to win the Rose Bowl.

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And during his career that ended in 2014, Sadler not only impressed on the field, but he became one of the most popular players – on the team, with the media and among Spartan fans.

“I could just (tell) story after story of him lighting up room, saying something sorta funny, not sorta funny, real funny or not taking himself serious or taking a jab at somebody else,” Dantonio said. “And then there was a serious side of him as well. There was a very competitive side to him. That guy was an outstanding player. He could drop a punt inside the 10 – I think he did it maybe 19 times in 2013.

Mark Dantonio speaks Tuesday at the Big Ten Kickoff.

“No moment was too big a moment for him. Whether it was calling his number for a fake punt or fake field goal, being the holder and steadying the nerves of somebody else for a big kick. No moment was too big for him and that’s what I’ll remember about Mike. His gift for life, his love of life, and his competitiveness – in the classroom, on the football field, off the field.”

Sadler was in Wisconsin for a kicking camp and current Michigan State punter Jake Hartbarger was also at the camp and had intended to be in the same car with Sadler, Foltz and LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye, who suffered injuries in the accident.

“Yeah, I’ve talked to Jake,” Dantonio said. “He’s shook. But he’s OK and we we’ll take care of Jake Hartbarger.”

With the players off last week, Dantonio said when they return to campus there will be support staff available. In the meantime, Dantonio and his staff have rallied around each other.

“I think we draw strength from each other,” Dantonio said, saying he thought about cancelling a staff meeting Monday. “Everybody on the staff had a relationship with Mike Sadler. Different relationships. I was the head coach, but there was the defensive coach and the guy who handled special teams. We all had relationships with him. … We came together and together we could move forward and all of us sort of help each other.”

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Dantonio said he has spoken with Nebraska coach Mike Riley, as well as Sadler’s parents.

“I don’t always ask why, I always ask, ‘What is the next step and how do we help?’” Dantonio said. “I spoke with Mike’s mother the first day, and his father, and the grief was very clear. I spoke with his mom and dad yesterday and there was conviction and strength in their tone.”

Dantonio added there have been talks about remembering Sadler this season and early discussions about a scholarship in his name but said that would be worked out at a later date.

For now, Dantonio said, remembering the former friend and teammate was what mattered.

“Mike was about life,” Dantonio said. “Mike would want to be remembered as a person who embraced life. He wouldn’t want me sitting here tearing up. He’d want me to be strong and talk about him the way he was and who he is.”