CHICAGO — After his general session at Big Ten media days on Tuesday morning, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio addressed a smaller group outside of the main conference room. He’d already briefly and poignantly offered condolences to the families of former Spartans punter Mike Sadler and Nebraska punter Sam Foltz, who were killed in a car accident Saturday night, and in the smaller group, Dantonio fielded questions exclusively about the tragedy.
“He was an incredible student-athlete,” Dantonio recalled of Sadler. “He came to Michigan State with 36 Advanced Placement hours, and by the time he finished his first semester, he was a junior. So he was on his way to Stanford Law School, basically, had his whole life in front of him. As I said yesterday on the radio, Mike was about life, and Mike would want to be remembered as a person who embraced life. He wouldn't want me sitting here, tearing up right now. He'd want me to be strong and talk about him the way he was and who he is. Our thoughts and prayers go to his family, to Sam's family as well. Both of those people were incredible individuals.”
Dantonio, who appeared visibly shaken during the media session, addressed how his team, both players and staff, will proceed as it deals with the loss of the former standout, who played his final season in East Lansing in 2014.
“Our players are off this week,” the coach said, “so obviously we'll have some things in place for our players when they come back. He knew all of our seniors and our juniors were younger players when he was here, because he graduated in '14.
“I think everybody probably knew who Mike Sadler was, even if they didn't have a day-to-day interaction with him.
“The thing about our staff is we have great people on our staff. There are a lot of faith-based people on our staff, so sometimes you don't ask why; you move forward. I think we draw strength from each other. Everyone on our staff had a relationship with Michael Sadler, a different relationship. ... Really, when we came together as a staff yesterday morning—I almost cancelled it all, but I thought if we came together and were together, together we could move forward. I think we all sort of helped each other.”
Dantonio said he spoke with Sadler’s parents both Sunday and Monday, and that in the conversations, “there was conviction, and there was strength.”
He’s also spoken with Nebraska coach Mike Riley, who did not attend Big Ten media days. Foltz was a senior and was set to start for the Cornhuskers this season. “Sam seemed to be just the same type of person,” Dantonio said he learned from Riley, “(with extreme conviction in his) faith, well-respected and loved by his teammates.”
The coach also offered his memories of Sadler, from his initial commitment to Michigan State in 2009 to the legacy he left. “I was at McDonald's when he committed to us, and I told my wife, we've got an unbelievable guy coming to Michigan State,” Dantonio said. “I talked about his academic abilities and our punter situation.
“There's story after story of him just lighting up a room, saying something sort of funny—not sort of funny, real funny. Not taking himself seriously. And then there was the serious side of him as well. There was a very competitive side. That guy was an outstanding player.”
“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 and on the football field.”