COLUMN: Loss of Sadler, Hicks affected Spartans on the field all season
Early in the fourth quarter of MSU football’s 17-16 senior day loss to No. 2 Ohio State University, MSU head coach Mark Dantonio reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out a fake punt — one where junior linebacker Chris Frey took the direct snap and ran 25 yards down the sideline for a first down.
After the play, as many Spartans celebrated on the sidelines and in the stands, a number of players did something else. They raised their hands and pointed their fingers to the sky.
Those 25 yards ran by Frey are extremely symbolic. Former Spartan punter Mike Sadler, who tragically died this summer in a car accident along with Nebraska punter Sam Foltz, would have turned 25 that day.
“It was perfect, just fitting for the situation,” Frey said about the play. “It was a tribute to him, just the great player and a great friend to everybody on this team.”
In addition, the families of Sadler and Mylan Hicks were honored at Spartan Stadium following the first quarter of the game. Being surrounded by their loss, whether it be from opposing teams offering gratitude or the lengths MSU took to honor them, weighed heavily on the hearts of the Spartans.
“There’s always coaches who come up and say, 'Sorry for your loss,” Frey said. “No matter what, everybody that plays on the field knows what kind of brotherhood that is and it’s hard to lose a brother. I think guys realize that, and I think that’s why they are paying their tributes to everybody as we play them.”
Spartan Stadium displayed both the “3” that Sadler wore and the “6” that Hicks wore in their playing careers in numerous home games. BYU left flowers on the 3-yard line and the 6-yard line before their game, the first time MSU played after Hicks' death. The team has been to two funerals, saw Sadler get inducted to the MSU Athletics Hall of Fame, and teammates are constantly reminded of their fallen teammates in every game they play.
I recently lost my grandfather this year, and The State News was very gracious in giving me time of bereavement and to be with my family. It was during the busiest weekend of the football season for journalists as the Spartans prepared to host the University of Michigan. The last thing I wanted to do was write, and I was lucky enough to have a helpful and compassionate staff who helped pick up the slack in my absence.
Football players don’t get that. They don’t have the opportunity to sub in someone else because they are dealing with a loss of a loved one –– in this case, two brothers. They heard the tragic news of Sadler and were back on the field for summer workouts shortly after. They were devastated midseason by the passing of Hicks and two days later I was there, asking them questions about Mylan’s character, loving spirit and the fire he brought to the field after practice.
MSU can’t cancel games, though I’m sure every player on MSU’s team would have liked an extra few days off to let the soul properly heal, away from the distraction that football can provide sometimes.
Regardless of record, MSU football competed. And they competed for those guys, and even though they might not have had that time to heal, they played for them on the field. I’m sure Sadler and Hicks would have wanted their brothers to honor them that way.
Frey, who was roommates with Hicks when he first got to MSU, has led the team in tackles this season and was the recipient of MSU’s fake punt. I’m sure “Almighty Lo”, the nickname of Hicks, couldn’t be prouder of Frey as he undoubtedly rests with the other almighty.
As for Sadler, whether you believe in divine intervention or not, it would be hard to prove me otherwise that he didn’t have a hand in the success of that fake punt.