Punters are often afterthoughts in the hierarchy of football, obscured by offensive players who score touchdowns or defensive players who deliver big hits.
But at Michigan State, no one overlooks the impact of punter Mike Sadler.
“We talk about the punter being the most important player in football,” said Spartans’ special teams coach Mike Tressel, who also coaches the team’s linebackers. “Sadler is very, very valuable. Field position is so darn critical in this game. His stats last year in terms of downing the ball inside the 10 and 20, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Michigan State won 13 games last season and captured the Rose Bowl, in large part due to Sadler’s left foot. A first-team All-Big Ten selection and semifinalist for the Ray Guy award, Sadler led the Football Bowl Subdivision with 24 punts downed inside the 10 yard-line.
Since taking over punting duties in 2011, Sadler has carried a career average of 42.2 yards per boot, sixth best in school history. He is also second in career punting yards (10,978) and punts (260) through 10 games this season. The Spartans have gone to a bowl game every year since he arrived on campus.
“We’ve had four or five years of great success here,” said Sadler, a 6-foot senior from Grand Rapids, Mich. “Being a part of that and being a part of something that’s a lot bigger than myself is real special, and I’m glad I got to witness it firsthand.”
As dynamic as he is on the field, Sadler has proven more impressive in the classroom. A finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which goes to the top student-athlete in college football, Sadler is currently pursuing his Master’s in Public Policy. He graduated from Michigan State in 2013 with a degree in applied engineering sciences while sporting a near-flawless 3.97 GPA.
“I’m glad that all the work finally pays off, not just in college,” Sadler said. “This goes back to everything I did growing up in high school. Really it’s just a culmination of 16, 17 years of hard work in the classroom. Understand that football is going to end someday, but you’re going to have your mind with you for the rest of your life. As long as you keep your priorities, everything will fall in line.”
When time allows, Sadler gets involved with Athletes in Action, an interdenominational Christian fellowship for college athletes. Through AIA he has read to local elementary school children and assisted special needs students. He is hoping to attend the AIA Winter Regional Retreat in Chicago in January.
“Mike’s involvement includes coming to our weekly fellowship meetings and attending some small group Bible Studies for the football team and some other athletes,” said Phil Gillespie, a staff member for Michigan State’s AIA chapter. “Mike is a good guy. I like him a lot.”
With so much on his plate Sadler has still found time to engage fans on social media. His witty humor has drawn more than 22,000 followers to his Twitter account.
“I think social media is a great outlet for interacting with fans and letting people get to know you without actually knowing you,” Sadler said. “I think people, especially in this day and age, kind of forget that football is a game. It’s a platform to get out and affect the lives of other people. I try to keep it light, make fun of myself more than anybody else and hope that I can make a few people laugh along the way.”
Laughs aside, there is much more to Sadler than what can fit in 140 characters. His strong leg and pinpoint accuracy make him an attractive prospect for NFL teams seeking a punter. If a career at the professional ranks does not work out Sadler says he will look to go to law school.
With a powerful leg and an even more powerful mind, Sadler is not just a punter; he is a leader in the Spartans’ locker room.
“He gets respect, there’s no doubt about it,” Tressel said. “People know he’s ridiculously smart. I was an academic all-American in college at a smaller school, and he makes me feel like I lack intelligence completely. Everybody realizes, ‘Just do what Sadler says. He’s right on the ball.’”