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Forgotten Buckeyes: Dane Sanzenbacher

A productive wide receiver whose name is surprisingly scattered throughout Ohio State record books

Ohio State v Iowa

Shortly after I began contributing to Land Grant Holy Land, I realized that I was already struggling to come up with good content for the offseason/summer months. Hell of a start, right? But unfortunately, once the NFL Draft takes place, the content well tends to dry up unless you’ve already dialed in on one of the spring sports or the NBA Draft (but as Buckeye hoops fans... you get it). Ohio State football and basketball – our most popular topics – are still part of the news cycle, but they have taken a back seat. And recruiting... well, there are people at LGHL who do a hell of a job covering it, so I wasn’t about to swim with those sharks.

I needed to think outside the box. I thought: Football is months away, basketball is months away, recruiting is speculative and subject to change... many of the topics being covered now revolve around future events or predictions. But what about former players? And I’m not talking recent or soon-to-be draftees, because those athletes are still being talked or written about.

I am referring to unheralded and underappreciated Buckeyes from decades ago, that have been forgotten by some (or most) since they last donned the scarlet and gray. And there it was: Forgotten Buckeyes. Other OSU fans and media types have taken a similar approach to recognition, but this is my personal way of appreciating those who left an indelible mark at Ohio State.

Welcome to Volume II.

This week’s edition of Forgotten Buckeyes leans into football stereotypes and buzz words, which is admittedly very unfair to the player being profiled. Scrappy... gritty... sneaky athletic... student of the game... a real lunch pail type of guy... The same tired, recycled terminology is often associated with slow(er), undersized, and primarily Caucasian (if we’re being honest) wide receivers.

Those terms were regularly associated with Dane Sanzenbacher during his time in Columbus — regardless of whether he was catching a five-yard crosser or burning a skilled corner on a deep post. And the thing about stereotypes is, remotely accurate or not – and fair or not – they tend to trigger a generic image or thought in our minds. So when I say “that receiver for the New England Patriots was a real gym rat,” you likely think Julian Edelman. I know I do, as many of us are unfortunately conditioned to it.

But here’s another thing about stereotypes: they’re lazy. They might be rooted in a fraction of truth or accuracy, but they are often preconceived, uninformed, biased, and/or wildly unfair to the subject or subjects to which an unimaginative thinker is referring. Saying Edelman was a “grinder” undersells his natural athleticism and ability. Thinking he was the only gym rat is disrespectful to Troy Brown, Deion Branch, or even Randy Moss.

My point – at least when it comes to football stereotypes – is this: a talented football player is a talented football player, and a productive wide receiver is a productive wide receiver. Sanzenbacher was both for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Sanzenbacher attended Central Catholic High School in Toledo, Ohio, and signed with the Buckeyes as part of Jim Tressel’s 2007 recruiting class. Despite racking up more than 4,000 total yards at Central Catholic and helping the team win a 2005 state championship, he was ranked by most services as a low three-star recruit. Ohio State was far and away his most prestigious offer, and he chose OSU over the likes of Ball State, Bowling Green, and Kent State. Sanzenbacher’s size (5-foot-11, 170 pounds) was likely held against him during the recruiting process, but he would eventually go on to do big things in Columbus.

As a freshman, Sanzenbacher made an immediate impact for an Ohio State team that would go on to play in the BCS National Championship Game against LSU... sort of. He caught a touchdown in OSU’s opener against Youngstown State, but it was his only real highlight of the season. Not only was he a freshman, but he was also playing behind the likes of Brian Hartline, Brian Robiskie, and others. The Buckeyes leaned heavily upon Chris “Beanie” Wells and the run game, so Sanzenbacher’s minimal output in 2007 (12 receptions for 89 yards) was to be expected — not to mention the fact that Tressel’s offense was far from the air-it-out version we see utilized by Ryan Day.

Sanzenbacher’s role increased in 2008, the year of Terrell Pryor’s arrival in Columbus. Ohio State eventually turned its starting quarterback gig over to the all-world athlete, but the offense occasionally struggled while he worked through inexperience and growing pains. Once again, the team deployed a run-heavy attack, but even more so than it did under Todd Boeckman (the 2007 starter, and incumbent entering 2008). The Buckeyes totaled less than 2,000 passing yards, with Hartline and Robiskie leading the way for a second consecutive season. Sanzenbacher finished his sophomore campaign with 21 receptions for 272 yards and a single touchdown, but he was able to establish a solid rapport with Pryor. He and Devier Posey would become the QB’s preferred targets in future seasons.

As a featured weapon and upperclassman in 2009, Sanzenbacher reeled in 36 receptions and more than doubled his yardage output to 570. He added six touchdowns, which accounted for nearly half of Ohio State’s total through the air (Posey led the team with eight TD catches). The Buckeyes won a bowl game for the first time during Sanzenbacher’s career (2010 Rose), and finished with 11 victories. It was the wide receiver’s most successful individual season to date, but both he and the team one-upped themselves the following year.

The 2010 Buckeyes did not boast the most talented roster in the world, but they won games in a variety of ways. Pryor combined with multiple backs to rush for nearly 3,000 yards on offense, and a number of veterans chipped in to form a stingy defense. In the passing game, it was Sanzenbacher who stood out. The senior and four-year contributor totaled 55 catches, 948 receiving yards, and 11 receiving TD. He led Ohio State in all receiving categories, and also added one rushing TD. The wideout that many considered to be too small and too slow was voted First Team All-Big Ten by both coaches and media members, ending his individual career on a high note. He and his teammates finished the 2010 season with 12 victories – including a Sugar Bowl win – meaning Sanzenbacher played a role in 44 total victories during his OSU career.

Despite any and all knocks against him, Sanzenbacher’s stats tell the story of an unquestioned top-20 pass catcher in program history. Seriously, look it up! A partial list of his accomplishments looks like this: tied a school record with four TD receptions in one game (EMU, 2010), finished 9th in career receiving TD, 14th in receptions and receiving yards, and his 948 yards in 2010 were more than any single-season total produced by Joey Galloway and/or Chris Olave, to name a few. I’m not comparing apples to apples here, but give the man his proper respect.

Sanzenbacher did not enjoy a ton of football success at the next level, but he did spend four seasons in the NFL. Interestingly enough, his best professional season was his rookie campaign, when he caught 27 passes and scored three TDs for the Chicago Bears. His life after football has included a stint in local (Toledo) television, but he now works professionally in Columbus. Like many other former Buckeyes, he will also pop up on the occasional sports radio station or podcast.

While Sanzenbacher does not have the same name recognition as other wideouts from his general era (Holmes, Ginn Jr., Hartline, etc.), his achievements as a Buckeye are quite impressive. From undersized to underappreciated, I think he deserves more credit than he generally receives. So next time you or I looks back on the most productive OSU players of the 2000’s, we should give props to Sanzenbacher for a great career.