Sander Brings Ray Guy Award Home To OSU

Fifth-year senior B.J. Sander overcame a lot of adversity but made the most of his final season, being named as the nation's top punter last week.

Ohio State has had its share of All-American punters, including Tom Skladany, Tom Tupa and Andy Groom.

But until last week, OSU had never had a punter named as the Ray Guy Award winner as the nation's top punter. Senior B.J. Sander brought that award home to Ohio State when he was named as this year's winner during last Thursday's college football awards show in Orlando.

"That's exciting," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "We've never had a Ray Guy winner. It is a special thing for B.J. and a special thing for the university. And the fact that people recognized … you look at someone's average and say, `I wonder how many he kicked through the end zone.' Well, he led the nation at kicks inside the 20, which tells you he didn't boom them through the end zone to try and pad his average. He did what the team needed."

Sander had split time with Dan Stultz as OSU's punter in 2000 before watching former walk-on Groom handle the job the last two years. But with Groom using up all of his eligibility, OSU turned back to Sander this season to handle the job. And handle it he did, averaging 43.6 yards on his 75 punts. He put 36 of this kicks inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

"That was something I really prided myself on and something I emphasized a lot," Sander said of his ability to pin the opponent back. "I struggled a little bit in the spring with it, but I worked hard on it in the summer. One thing it can do is it can help out your defense. I figured if I was on defense I would want my punter to be able to do that.

"I've got to give the guys on my punt team a lot of credit. They did a tremendous job for me protecting. Kyle (Andrews) did a great job of snapping. Without them doing that for me, I wouldn't have been able to be where I was at."

Sander discussed going down to Orlando, where he was up for the Guy Award along with finalists Kyle Larson of Nebraska and Justin Colquitt of Tennessee.

"We joked around a little bit," he said. "I got to know Justin real well. I would watch for him next year. I would think he has a chance to win it next year."

Sander was also fascinated to meet Guy, the former Oakland Raiders standout and the only punter after taken in the first round of the NFL draft.

"I met him Wednesday night and he is a great guy," Sander said. "It was a great honor to meet him. He was a great punter. He was unbelievable. To have my name mentioned with his is amazing."

Sander, a Cincinnati native, actually began his career at OSU in 1999. But he was shelved after averaging 24.5 yards on a pair of punt attempts and redshirted. The following year, Sander was used as the "long punter" while Stultz handled all attempts to pin teams back. Sander averaged 41.9 yards on 37 attempts. Then, after Sander averaged 29.8 yards on four attempts in 2001, Tressel gave the job to Groom. It wasn't until this past spring that Sander resurfaced.

"I love stories with persistence that end up with happy endings," Tressel said. "Here is a guy who came and played early. He got injured, got behind another guy and just worked hard to become the guy he wanted to be. He became a holder and did whatever we asked. I think he's got a bright future."

Sander added, "Those two years were difficult, but I looked at it as a learning experience."

Few coaches preach the importance of the punt as much as Tressel does, but it is no coincidence that OSU seems to be strong in that aspect of the game.

"The punt is the most important play in football," Tressel said. "If you do any type of in-depth research, you see that big plays made in the punt game, big mistakes or punt blocks or balls that roll down inside the 3, can turn a game around. We were fortunate to have a guy like B.J. who could do things like that in the punt game."

There had been rumors that Sander, because he missed much of the 1999 season due to an injury, would be able to apply for a sixth year of eligibility. But that now seems unlikely.

"I don't think so," Sander said. "They were looking into it, but it has to be a medical medical, which I didn't have."

Tressel believes Sander has a future as an NFL punter.

"He looks to me like those guys you see on Sundays -- boom, they hit them way up in the air," the coach said. "I hope he gets an opportunity."

Obviously, Sander hopes he has made a strong case to merit a draft choice in April's NFL draft.

"If I'm able to do that, I would love to," he said. "I've got some work to do, but with a little bit of work I think I can."

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