MSUToday
Published: Dec. 1, 2019

Carrying on the legacy of Mike Sadler

Contact(s): Angie Bazzano Athletics office: 355-2271 bazzanoa@ath.msu.edu, Ben Phlegar Athletic Communications office: (517) 355-2271 phlegarb@ath.msu.edu

In honor of the late Mike Sadler and through the cooperation of the Sadler Family and the Michael Sadler Foundation, Michigan State Athletics established the Mike Sadler Legacy Football Scholarship Fund in 2016 to honor the former Spartan football student-athlete (2011-2014) who earned first-team All-America and All-Big Ten honors as a punter and was the only four-time Academic All-American in school history.

Through the establishment of the Mike Sadler Legacy Football Scholarship Fund, a Spartan football student-athlete will be awarded a scholarship each year in his honor. The fund, created as an endowment, will provide scholarship support in perpetuity for the Spartan football program.

The first recipient of the Mike Sadler Legacy scholarship was a close friend of Sadler’s, fellow punter Jake Hartbarger, who will be recognized this Saturday, Nov. 30 on Senior Day in Spartan Stadium. Below is a story on Hartbarger’s journey at Michigan State and how he continues to carry on the legacy of Mike Sadler.

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Take things step-by-step, day-by-day and week-by-week. That's how senior punter Jake Hartbarger puts football and life into perspective.

In his sixth season with Michigan State, Hartbarger has been through challenges on the football field, notably his season-ending injury in 2018. He has also seen personal challenges in losing a mentor and friend in Mike Sadler early on in his collegiate career.

After being named to the Ray Guy Award Watch List after a successful junior season in 2017, Hartbarger was looking forward to ending his college football career at Michigan State on a positive note. But, in the fourth quarter of week two at Arizona State last season, the unthinkable happened.

"As a specialist, you never expect to go down; it's not very common," Hartbarger reflected. "Right when it happened, I knew something was definitely wrong."

The moment Hartbarger fell to the field, he knew that the senior season he imagined wouldn't be the same. The broken leg he suffered during a punt attempt, which was originally predicted to take him off the field for six to eight weeks, would sideline him for the remainder of his senior campaign.

Although an injury like his is an athlete's worst fear, Hartbarger handled his situation by taking every moment of recovery one step at a time and one day at a time. He knew that in order to recover fully, he had to trust the process, focus on his own progress and rely on his support system.

"I couldn't have done it without anyone else; the coaches, the players, my family," Hartbarger said. "It was a pretty long process, but I just took it week-by-week and went in to get rehab every day to try and get my leg better. I couldn't have done it without the support of the football team and my family as well; they helped out a lot."

When the Waterville, Ohio, native received word that he had been granted a sixth-year of eligibility from the NCAA, he was excited at the opportunity to have another season as a Spartan in 2019.

"I didn't want to go out my last year with an injury, so being able to come back means a lot," said Hartbarger, a four-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree. "I'll finish my master's degree here in December and then just having another season here at Michigan State is awesome."

After graduating with his undergraduate degree in hospitality business and a minor in real estate last December, Hartbarger has two big milestones in the next few weeks as he closes out his athletic and academic career at Michigan State.

He will graduate with his master's degree in marketing research this December, and his six-year stint as a Spartan football player will come to a close. 

"Being here for six years, I gained a lot of great experiences. Through the ups and the downs, just never taking anything for granted," Hartbarger reflected. "It will be pretty crazy thinking about that last game in Spartan Stadium and playing the last game at Michigan State, but it just means a lot to me being here and I look forward to the rest of the year."

Hartbarger has joined a long line of strong Spartan punters in Michigan State football history, including the late Sadler, who was not only a teammate to Hartbarger, but a mentor and friend.

"We've had great punters come through Michigan State. It's pretty big shoes to fill coming in after Mike Sadler. Aaron Bates was a captain here, so real big shoes to fill," said Hartbarger, who ranks sixth in MSU history in punting yards and total punts. "I really just take it one game at a time."

As a veteran player who has been through the highs and lows that are associated with being a collegiate athlete, from championship seasons to battling injuries, Hartbarger provides a unique perspective to this 2019 squad.

"For myself, I'm trying to lead the punt team and lead the specialist group," Hartbarger said. "I'm trying to take my role and push those guys to get better; I'm really trying to do my job and lead by example."

Following his redshirt freshman season in 2014, the punter earned his way on to college football's biggest stages – the Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff in 2015 – and became a four-year starter in the process.

However, all of his successes wouldn't have been possible without the development that occurred during his first year on campus.

When Hartbarger joined the Spartans during the 2014 season as a redshirt freshman, he was given the opportunity to learn from and train under All-American punter Sadler, who took Hartbarger under his wing.

"Coming into my freshman year, having Mike Sadler here and being able to take me through the steps, he helped me out on and off the field. He really helped me with all my fundamentals of football and balancing the school and football life," Hartbarger said. "Looking back, he was an All-American academically and athletically. He has been a great role model to me.”

When Sadler tragically passed away in a car accident during the summer of 2016, the Spartan football team felt the aftershocks of losing a beloved friend and teammate; but his legacy and spirit has lived on in each and every player.

"I've really stayed close with Karen and the Sadler family; they've done a great job of leaving his legacy," Hartbarger said. "We do the Mike Sadler Specialist Camp out in Grand Rapids, as well as the Mike Sadler Celebration of Life. I try to stay involved with that and just try to promote his legacy and how great of a guy he was. It means a lot to me to be able to have been under his wing for my first year here, and I definitely appreciate everything that he did for me."

The No. 3 will always mean more to Hartbarger than a number. It represents strength, determination, friendship and brotherhood. By wearing Sadler's No. 3 on his cleats for every game, Hartbarger is reassured that he is always there with him.

"I wear number three on my cleats; I think about him every day and just having that on my cleat helps me out," Hartbarger said. "It helps me know that he's looking over us every game and just trying to live up to that legacy."

When Hartbarger took the Spartan Stadium field for the last time on Saturday for Senior Day against Maryland, he knows that his friend and mentor, Sadler, was with him as he is every day. He's with him as he puts on his cleats in the locker room, as he runs out of the tunnel and with every punt attempt.

The Michigan State football team celebrated Senior Day on Saturday, Nov. 30 against Maryland in Spartan Stadium.

The Michael Sadler Foundation recognizes scholar-athletes with strong character through awards and scholarships, and we help young people to begin building their legacies at an early age through our programs.

Jake Harbarger's football cleats, bearing the number 3 for his friend and mentor Mike Sadler.