'Sky Is Limit' For Sanzenbacher's Ceiling

According to Greg Dempsey, the head football coach at Central Catholic High School in Toledo, only better days are ahead for Dane Sanzenbacher who was recently offered a scholarship to Iowa and Ohio State. When you consider that he was integral part of a state championship last season and finished fourth in the 400 meters at the state track meet, those better days are certainly worth waiting for.

In just his sixth season as the head football coach at his alma mater, Central Catholic High School in Toledo, Greg Dempsey was able to fulfill his impossible dream. His Fighting Irish defeated Canfield, 31-29, in the Division II state final to win a state championship.

"It's something that I've always dreamed of and I feel pretty lucky to have a state championship," Dempsey said. "There's a lot of great coaches that haven't won one yet and to be able to be a person that already has a state championship next to their name is a pretty big deal. Very big."

Dempsey, second from the right, was an assistant coach at the Big 33 game this year.

Dempsey graduated from Central Catholic in 1990 and had three long-term goals on his horizon at the time.

"I've always had three goals," Dempsey said. "My goals were to become the head coach at Central Catholic, get my name on the Irish Knight - which is the traveling trophy between us and Toledo St. Francis, and to win a state title."

Before Dempsey took over at Central Catholic six seasons ago (career record now 53-19) he began his coaching career first as a freshmen and junior varsity assistant there from 1990 to ‘92 before being an assistant at Toledo Start from 1993 to ‘99.

Dempsey's Irish opened the magical season at Central Catholic last year with a victory over Detroit Central Catholic and then suffered their only loss of the season in week two against Freemont Ross.

"We stubbed our toe in week two but we got better every week, I would say, as the year went on," Dempsey said. "And so did Dane Sanzenbacher. The bigger the competition got, the better his play got. Especially at playoff time, he really cranked his game up at playoff time."

Sanzenbacher, who just recently was offered a scholarship to play football at Ohio State, had a lot to do with helping Dempsey accomplish his third and final career goal.

"His state championship performance was game-turning," said Dempsey of Sanzenbacher who had 4 grabs for 140 yards that included touchdown catches of 39 and 60 yards, 3 rushes for 22 yards, a couple of key tackles and an interception. "A lot of his plays, not just offensively but defensively, were certainly game-turning and helped us get the victory."

And according to Dempsey, Sanzenbacher might have even been better in the state semifinal victory over Avon Lake.

"I would say that his game against Avon Lake might have been one of the best performances that I've ever seen as a coach, at least, in a big game both offensively and defensively," the coach said. "He had well over 150 yards receiving, I think, and he had two interceptions of which one was returned 97 yards for a touchdown, which might have been one of the better individual plays that I've ever seen.

"Every time we needed something in that game, going against a great program like Avon Lake, he stepped it up and did it."

But what Sanzenbacher did in the Canfield game is the stuff that football legends in the Toledo area are made of.

As the recipient of the lateral in the hook-and-ladder play that began at the 47 yard line on third-and-7, Sanzenbacher received the ball in stride from Xavier Graciani eight yards down the field and raced in for a 39-yard touchdown with just 30 seconds on the clock to give the Irish a 17-16 lead at the intermission.

Just minutes before that play, Canfield led 14-10 and was going in for another score when they fumbled the ball at the one. But Central Catholic couldn't totally escape disaster as their quarterback, Kevin Jansen, accidentally slipped in the end zone for a Canfield safety to make it 16-10 with 1:37 remaining on the clock before halftime.

The Cardinals started the ensuing possession after the kickoff at their own 48 and went to the air on the first play and Frank Ross' pass was intercepted by Greg Hammond and returned to midfield. That sequence of events set up the first game-turning play by Sanzenbacher.

"We were struggling in that first half and we were fortunate enough to be in the game," Dempsey said. "We get that safety and end up getting an interception on the very next play and, to call a play like the hook and ladder and get it executed was huge. If he didn't have that good burst he might have got caught. But he had that great burst and he was able to put it in and we ended up taking the lead into halftime."

The second game-changing play by Sanzenbacher occurred right after halftime was over.

"In the first drive coming out of halftime we call an out-an-up on third-and-9," said Dempsey alluding to the 60-yard touchdown catch by Sanzenbacher. "You have to cover him because you have to try to stop the first down. And Dane makes a real difficult catch, he had to reach over his head and then stay in stride, and we go up a couple of scores against Canfield coming out of halftime, with all of that momentum and building on it. Dane made two huge plays that made that possible."

That burst that Dempsey referred to when describing the hook-and-ladder play is what is also known as "football speed" in football vernacular.

"You're talking about somebody that runs a 4.6, or just under, that plays much faster," Dempsey said. "He's a play maker regardless of how fast his 40 is."

And the way that Dempsey tells it, Sanzenbacher is obviously blessed with a ton of natural ability as a wide receiver.

"Last year he didn't even practice with our wide receivers because he was our second-team quarterback and practiced at quarterback as his primary position. He just has that kind of natural ability," the coach said. "His ball skills are very phenomenal. He makes plays in mid-air and goes up for the ball and gets it at his highest point. His ball skills are just phenomenal."

Ohio State and Iowa offered Sanzenbacher a scholarship to play wide receiver at the next level.

"I think wide receiver is his ideal position," Dempsey said. "But if you didn't want him as a wide receiver, he can easily step over and play defense, he can return punts and kicks, he can throw, he can hold on extra points and field goals and he can just do so much. I knew he was the type of kid that could play anywhere if somebody would just give him the shot and luckily because of the Ginn Bus Tour he was able to get in front of the right people."

Sanzenbacher was indeed a member of the Ted Ginn Foundation bus tour that visited 12 schools in 12 days. He had four scholarship offers prior to the tour, all at the MAC level, and added Bowling Green and Iowa to his list during the tour. Ohio State actually offered Sanzenbacher via a text message after his camp performance on Friday, June 23, three days after he was there with the guys on the bus tour.

"Iowa was the first Big Ten school to offer him and then when he went to Ohio State a week later and they saw it too," Dempsey said. "On the film you see a great player but you might not want to believe it, and then when you see him in person it takes all the doubt out of your mind."

Although Ohio State likes him as a receiver, Dempsey thinks that Sanzenbacher, at 5-11 and 185 pounds, can play any number of positions equally well.

"I think he can play corner and some schools have even talked about him as a safety," the coach said. "But he certainly can play corner. He can man up and get the job done. He had 11 interceptions for us last year and there weren't many more than 11 balls thrown his way. He's a guy that, when you throw at him, he's going to make the most of the opportunities. He has great instincts. He's a corner for us on defense, our wide corner."

Dempsey couldn't be any happier for Sanzenbacher who has yet to formerly decide if he'll play wide receiver at Iowa or Ohio State.

"We all knew he was good enough but we were just wondering if anyone was going to give him the chance," he said. "When this bus tour came along I knew it was going to be the perfect opportunity for him to showcase his skills in person because that's what everybody wanted, to see him in person."

And, according to Dempsey, Sanzenbacher seems to be taking everything in stride like it was just another 60-yard strike during a state championship playoff game.

"It's shocking in a way because at our school you never think that you're going to hear Coach Tressel call and offer one of your kids a scholarship," Dempsey said. "And Dane is, I wouldn't say overwhelmed, but he's so happy that all of the hard work that he's put in has paid off. He's taking it very well though and he's keeping it in a very good perspective. He's just as much worried about this coming season than anything else but it's been great to watch how he's handled himself throughout the recruiting process."

Central Catcholic's colors just happen to be scarlet and gray.

"It's Buckeye-crazy up here in Northwest Ohio. It really is," Dempsey said. "When Fred Davis came through a couple of years ago, everybody around here was hoping that he would go to Ohio State. He chose USC, which obviously has worked out for him, but now to have another one who's been offered is awesome and Dane is very excited about possibly being a Buckeye. He's really excited that Ohio State has offered and he talks about it a lot. It's got the whole town going a little nuts up here."

Sanzenbacher is likely to make a formal decision very soon.

"I think Dane's decision will be coming soon," Dempsey said. "From what he's told me he wants to evaluate everything in the near future before we start camp and go into his senior season with no pressure about scholarships or recruiting on him. So I can see something happening here before we start camp on Aug. 3."

Of course Dempsey is expecting Sanzenbacher to be a leader this season that's for sure.

"He's going to be even more of leader for us this year being a senior. That's the biggest thing that he's brought to us this off-season," Dempsey said. "When you see a guy that's been offered by Ohio State who already has a 25 on his ACT and is still going to ACT prep classes and is still working out like he doesn't have any offers, that sets the tone for the rest of our team. So the most important thing that he can for us now is what he's already doing, setting the example for everybody else."

He's a high-character guy who just happens to have a ton of athletic ability.

"He's very humble and he's very team-oriented," Dempsey said. "He's a great practice player, he's a weight room guy and he's a student athlete with a 3.3 GPA to go with his 25 on his ACT. He's just a great kid on and off the field."

Sanzenbacher finished fourth in the 400 meters at the state meet this past track season.

"I think that was huge what he did against the competition he was going up against," Dempsey said. "The thing I like about the 400 guys is that you have to go a long time at high speed to achieve at that level. That's not for the weak at heart and it tells a lot about his fire and his toughness. There are no weaklings sprinting in the 400 and that says a ton about him."

And despite all that he's already accomplished, Dempsey thinks Sanzenbacher's better days on the gridiron are definitely ahead of him.

"He's done our school nothing but proud and when things get tougher he cranks it up a notch, so I still think the best is yet to come out of him," the coach said. "I think the sky is the limit on his ceiling and he can only get better. And to know that he's going to get better is a little frightening. I'm really excited for him."

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