Thursday, September 25, 2003

Sander earns back OSU punting job


'Humbling' demotion in 2002 drives Roger Bacon product to excel

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COLUMBUS - Maybe it had come too easily. B.J. Sander - author of a state-record 60-yard field goal, all-Ohio punter, super-nice guy - went from Roger Bacon right into the starting lineup at Ohio State as a redshirt freshman punter.

Then after a decent first season, he lost his job to a walk-on and spent nearly two seasons on the bench.

"It was kind of an awakening," he said. "But I think it's made me a better punter."

Sander's turn finally came again this fall, as a fifth-year senior, and he is making the most of it. He ranks third in the Big Ten with a 42.5-yard punting average.

That doesn't tell the half of it. Sander already has had 10 punts this season downed inside the 20; another seven were fair-caught. His hang time has been so good that only seven of his 24 punts were returned, and those for just a 2.2-yard average.

OSU's net punting average of 40.2 yards ranks second to Michigan State's 41.5 average.

"I'm very happy with how I'm hitting the ball," Sander said. "And I'm much more excited this year, being a part of things."

Sander is an aw-shucks kid who hasn't a hint of pretension. But after averaging 41.9 yards per kick in 2000, he admits he relaxed the next summer, figuring he had won the job.

Then the walk-on, Andy Groom, stole the job in Week 3 of the 2001 season after Sander had a shaky start - a 29.8-yard average on four kicks.

That Groom became an All-American, averaging 45 yards both seasons, is little consolation to Sander.

"It was tough ... and humbling," Sander said. "It just shows you that nothing's guaranteed. You need to go out and take full advantage of your opportunities when they're presented."

Sander's numbers this year compare favorably with Groom, who had 15 of 60 punts last season downed inside the 20. OSU's net punting average in 2002 was 37.3 yards; Sander hopes to keep that average above 40.

"I know that if I hang the ball up, our snipers can get down there and stop them," he said.

An OSU spokesman said the school soon would nominate Sander for the Ray Guy Award - the competition for the nation's outstanding punter.

Sander said his leg is stronger than it was as a freshman, but the key improvement is in speed. A slow delivery led to a couple of blocks early in his career.

"His get-off times are very good," said tight ends coach Bill Conley, who works with Sander. "When he first got here, he was inconsistent with his drop and his stops. He's now taking shorter steps, and his drop is extremely consistent."

Sander also credits his chemistry with his long snapper. Kyle Andrews, a junior from Middletown, is the only other Greater Cincinnatian in OSU's starting lineup.

"He's the man behind the scenes. His speed, his placement and his consistency are perfect," Sander said.

Sander also serves as the holder for All-American kicker Mike Nugent. Nugent has made five of six field goals and all 13 PATs.

E-mail nschmidt@enquirer.com




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