Friday, December 12, 2003

Punter Sander worth the wait

Buckeye regained starting role, became the best

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] OSU's B.J. Sander was named the nation's top punter Thursday.
(AP photo)
B.J. Sander, you just won the Ray Guy Award. What are you going to do next?

"Well," he said, "I'm already in Disney World."

Sander, the Ohio State fifth-year senior from Roger Bacon, won the award Thursday as the nation's top punter during the College Football Awards Show broadcast live on ESPN from Orlando, Fla.

It capped a storybook comeback for Sander. He had won the punting job as a redshirt freshman, then lost it to a walk-on the next fall and spent nearly two seasons on the bench. But he waited for one last chance and made the most of it.

"This is unbelievable," he said. "I'm just thrilled."

Sander averaged 43.6 yards per punt and led the Big Ten in net punting with a 41.2-yard average. Thirty-six of his 75 punts were downed inside the 20, and another 15 were fair-caught. Sander's placement outshone those with bigger per-punt averages, including fellow finalists Dustin Colquitt (Tennessee) and Kyle Larson (Nebraska).

That aforementioned walk-on punter, Andy Groom, replaced Sander in Week Three of the 2001 season after Sander had a shaky start. That Groom became an All-American, averaging 45 yards both seasons, was little consolation to Sander.

But Sander was lauded for his upbeat attitude by his coaches, and he conditioned himself for this final season well enough that he now has designs on a pro career.

"I used the last two years as a growing experience," Sander said. "Fortunately, things turned out really well. Now it looks like I'll get that shot (at the pros)."

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