Senior Retrospective: Dane Sanzenbacher

In the class of 2007, Ohio State recruited a wide receiver out of Toledo whose reputation was that of a playmaker. After four years at OSU, it's fair to say Dane Sanzenbacher lived up to that -- and more. The team MVP and most inspirational player in 2010, Sanzenbacher recently concluded an incredible career as a fan favorite and team leader.

Kirk Ferentz tried to stage a Buckeye State coup when it came to a little-known Ohio wide receiver during the summer of 2006, but the Iowa coach fell just short.

After seeing Toledo Central Catholic wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher perform in Iowa City as part of the Ted Ginn Sr. bus tour, Ferentz called Central Catholic head coach Greg Dempsey and said he wanted Sanzenbacher to be a Hawkeye.

"He goes, ‘No, he's a great player. What stinks is I know in two weeks when this bus tour ends he's going to end up at Ohio State and they're going to offer him,' " Dempsey remembered years later to Buckeye Sports Bulletin.

"I go, ‘You really think so?' He goes, ‘If they saw what I saw today, that kid will leave Ohio State with an offer.' "

Sure enough, Sanzenbacher impressed the Ohio State coaching staff enough during his trip that summer to Columbus that an offer came in from the Buckeyes as well.

While thinking it over in July 2006, Sanzenbacher couldn't help but be amazed by his rise – and he couldn't help going with the home-state school.

"Basically, it came down to I had some offers from the Ted Ginn tour that I was on, but by the time Ohio State came around it was just to the point where I've been a big Ohio State fan," he said. "At the beginning of the season it had seemed like a long shot to get that offer, so when it came around it was kind of hard to pass up."

Five years later, Ohio State fans sure are glad Sanzenbacher was so impressive during that summer tour. He recently finished his Buckeye career with 1,879 yards, the 10th most in Ohio State history, while earning team MVP and most inspirational player honors during his final campaign, a first under head coach Jim Tressel.

"I've been a head coach for 25 years," Tressel said. "In all 25 years, we've had the team vote on the MVP and the most inspirational player, and it's always ended up clearly being two different guys. This is the first time in 25 years, and it was a landslide the same guy. I've never seen anything like that.

"You try to spread the wealth and the notoriety, and as you looked at it, it would have been impossible to do that in this case. For Dane to be recognized for his great play on the field as an MVP, but also the fact that he inspired guys just through who he is – that just tells you how extraordinary Dane Sanzenbacher is."

There were clues that the 5-11 receiver would have that kind of impact while being recruited by the Buckeyes.

"I'd say one of his best attributes is his competitiveness," Dempsey told BSB in September 2006. "He's like that at practice all the time. He leads every sprint. He's the hardest worker on the team. He's turned himself into the football player that he is."

That motivation came from early doubts about whether Sanzenbacher could be an impact player at the next level. Despite leading Toledo Central Catholic to a Division II state title his junior season behind a bevy of crucial plays throughout the playoffs, Sanzenbacher had offers from only MAC schools before the bus tour. He finished as the No. 58 wide receiver prospect in the country in his class.

"I think Dane's the kind of kid who looked very impressive on film but some people questioned him physically," Dempsey said. "I think he's a great player of course, but people see him and they're like, ‘That's him?' They're a little surprised. He's not a big guy. He's not your typical 6-3 receiver with 4.5 speed, but he can just play football. I think he has ‘next' speed – he's faster than the guy next to him."

It didn't take Sanzenbacher long to make an impact at Ohio State. He quickly jumped into the battle for playing time as a true freshman and battled with Ray Small and classmate Taurian Washington for the job as the team's No. 3 receiver during fall camp.

"I think the thing that's propelled him above some of the other guys is his ability to learn and retain and apply on the field," wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell said. "That's what his special quality has been."

When the season started, Sanzenbacher was just as important, catching a touchdown pass of 3 yards on third down from Todd Boeckman on Ohio State's first drive of the season against Youngstown State.

"I was called into that formation," he said. "I just had an inside slant, which I basically just found a seam in there. I kind of sat there. Luckily Todd found me and we got in there. To be honest, it was like a blur. It seemed like they snapped the ball and I was just handing it to the ref. Everything else in between went way fast."

Sanzenbacher also dropped two passes in that first game, but Ohio State fans would come to know him as a fierce competitor during that initial season. He caught 12 passes in 2007 for 89 yards, good for fourth on the team among wideouts.

A year later, Sanzenbacher went into the season hoping to put that first-year experience to good use.

"I feel like I've tried to work on that probably more than anything, just the whole knowledge of what I'm supposed to be doing," he said. "I feel like anywhere that's going to give you an advantage, because if you go out there and you know what you're going to do before you even have to go out there and do it."

Though Ohio State didn't pass as much as in other years as Terrelle Pryor took over the quarterback job four games into the season, Sanzenbacher did see his production grow to 21 catches for 272 yards as the Buckeyes' third wideout. After leaving the Wisconsin game with a concussion and missing another contest, he had his best game of the season that year with six catches for 82 yards in a top-10 showdown vs. Penn State.

"His number doesn't get called a whole lot, but he always responds when it does," Hazell said. "He's been a blessing."

"I think a lot of experience came with last year," Sanzenbacher added. "When you're in there as a freshman, you might be unsure of yourself, kind of. It's a new experience going on the road and just learning the whole college thing. I think it definitely helps getting that year under your belt."

Despite missing some of spring practice in 2009 with an ankle injury, he moved his play to another level in 2009. With Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline gone to the NFL draft, Sanzenbacher moved into a starting role beside DeVier Posey.

He finished the year with 36 catches for 570 yards and six touchdowns, all career highs. For the second time in his career, Sanzenbacher got Ohio State's first touchdown of the year, catching a 36-yard pass from Pryor to start the season scoring vs. Navy. He had a 56-yard grab vs. USC, then caught a 76-yarder on the first drive against Toledo, one of two touchdown catches against his hometown school.

Most impressively, Sanzenbacher had a career-high nine catches for 64 yards as Ohio State beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl to snap a three-game bowl losing streak.

"I gotta say, I wouldn't have been able to guess that we would have nine and (DeVier would have) eight catches," he said afterward. "But I think it goes to show the chemistry that we built through the season. I think that we knew as a passing offense that we could do something like this, but we weren't able to put it together in a game yet. To end the season like that, it's a big step."

However, Sanzenbacher wanted to improve going into his senior campaign despite continued high praise from the coaching staff.

"You'd be surprised by how many little things there are," Sanzenbacher said with a laugh. "There are always things you can work on to get better."

"He can get better," Hazell said. "He has to work on second-level releases and those types of things, but he's got a chance to be really special for us this year."

Work like that made Sanzenbacher a team captain before the season, and he backed up that honor by flying out of the gates. Sanzenbacher was excellent in the nonconference season, highlighting the early part of the campaign with 113 yards and a touchdown vs. Marshall in the opener and then tying a school record with four touchdown catches during a blowout win against Eastern Michigan.

"Dane's good," Tressel deadpanned after the game. "I don't know what to tell you. He's where he's supposed to be. We don't really go into a game saying, ‘So and so is going to have this.' It's all according to who is open, and some of the things we were doing Dane was the guy that popped open."

"Sometimes you honestly get in the right place at the right time," Sanzenbacher added. "It's not like we drew up so many plays for me or any of the other guys. It just happened for me."

He went on to add touchdown catches in five Big Ten games while breaking the century mark with 102 yards receiving against Iowa. Saving his best for last, Sanzenbacher both caught a touchdown pass and recovered a fumble in the end zone during OSU's victory against Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl.

Sanzenbacher finished the season leading the team in all three major receiving categories, catching 55 passes for 948 yards and 11 touchdowns. The yardage total was the most since Santonio Holmes had 977 in 2005 and was good for ninth all time in Ohio State's single-season annals.

He also averaged 17.2 yards per catch, showing he was more than just a possession receiver.

"He brings everything," Pryor said. "He's a slick little, sneaky little guy. He's a smart route runner. He reminds me a lot of Brian Hartline and (Anthony) Gonzalez. He runs very pure, perfect routes."

He also made headlines during the season when his video about organ donation made for a class hit the internet and caused a sensation.

And when it was all said and done, Sanzenbacher was lauded by his teammates at the team banquet. Not bad for a lightly recruited kid who grew up on the battle lines of Ohio State and Michigan in Toledo, Ohio.

"It was pretty unbelievable," he said. "It was something that I didn't see coming when I walked into the banquet. It was really kind of humbling for me, especially the inspirational and the MVP, I'm in such a position as a receiver that I rely on so many guys to do their job for me to even have success. So in some sense I didn't really even think it was possible but the fact that my teammates voted this and that's what they decided on, that was very humbling."

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