CHRIS RUSSELL Enlarge
COLUMBUS - Speed has always been a critical part of football for Dane Sanzenbacher. If he didn't have the jets to get away from people, or catch them from behind, this likely wouldn't be his game of choice.
But Sanzenbacher, a wide receiver preparing for his sophomore season with Ohio State, places an even higher value on that attribute now than he did a few years ago when he was leading Central Catholic High School to a state championship. His considerable giddy-up allowed Sanzenbacher to make 40 receptions for 842 yards and score nine touchdowns in his seven career state playoff games for the Irish.
"You hear that the college game is so much faster, and that the hardest adjustment for a lot of players coming out of high school is the speed - getting used to playing against so many fast guys," Sanzenbacher said yesterday evening as the Buckeyes took a break from preseason practice and suited up for team pictures.
"It was a big adjustment, and there are a ton of really fast guys playing in the Big Ten, but after you experience it for a while you do adjust, and the other aspects of the game become more critical. You learn the importance of running precise routes, studying the defenses, and doing everything you can out on the field to try and gain a little advantage so you can make a play."
Sanzenbacher, who had 12 receptions as a freshman playing on an 11-2 team that won a third straight Big Ten championship, said he invested a lot of time since the end of spring practice in skill-specific work to improve his speed and strength.
"Until we come to camp, the summer is less about football, and more about doing the work individually to make yourself better," he said. "Being away from real football practice and running plays for a while, I actually kind of enjoy it. It allows you to really focus in on what you want to improve on, and discipline yourself to put in the time it takes to advance yourself."
Sanzenbacher, who is listed as the backup to returning starter junior Brian Hartline at one receiver spot for the Buckeyes, saw a lot of playing time last year when Ohio State went to three and four-receiver sets. Senior Brian Robiskie starts again at receiver on the other side of the Ohio State offensive alignment, with sophomore Taurian Washington as his backup.
"We've got the two real veteran guys in Robiskie and Hartline, and then there's a bunch of us competing and working behind them," Sanzenbacher said. "Right now, I don't really concern myself with who is where on the depth chart, because that all gets determined by the coaches during camp. We're just getting started, so there's a lot of time left to work all of that out."
The Buckeyes held their first practice on Monday, and won't be in full pads with contact until next week. They open the season at home against Youngstown State on Aug. 30.
"There's a lot of talent on this team," Sanzenbacher said about the 2008 Buckeyes, the favorites to win another Big Ten crown. "And there's a load of talent at the receiver position. With the incoming freshmen we have, there's also a lot of depth at the position - maybe the most depth Ohio State has had there in a few years."
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said he was very pleased with Sanzenbacher's performance as a freshman, and is anxious to see what his second year with the Buckeyes will provide. Tressel made Sanzenbacher part of the attack from the start last season, and Sanzenbacher's first college reception went for a touchdown in the 2007 opener against Youngstown State.
"Dane is a smart player, and a very coachable young man who seems like he has just soaked up everything we've thrown at him since the day he got here," Tressel said. "He keeps improving, making himself better, and as coaches we are excited to see what kind of things he will do in the coming season. Some players really break out once they get that first year behind them and start to play with a lot of confidence and experience."
Sanzenbacher said that although his first year with the Buckeyes seemed to fly by, experience-wise he feels like a much more seasoned, mature player.
"It does seem like it wasn't that long ago when I was coming to preseason camp here for the first time," Sanzenbacher said.
"But in terms of the experiences you go through as a freshman, it feels like quite a while ago. Now I know about camp, I know what it's like to go on the road in the Big Ten, and what it's like to play at Michigan. You never allow yourself to ease up in your training and your preparation, but it is different the second time around. Now I know what to expect, and I know what is expected of me. "
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