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Tributes paid to Sam Foltz and Mike Sadler before Nebraska-Michigan State kickoff
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Tributes paid to Sam Foltz and Mike Sadler before Nebraska-Michigan State kickoff

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Sam Foltz's parents Gerald and Jill Foltz, left, join the families of Mike Sadler and Mylan Hicks for a tribute before kickoff. Foltz and Sadler died in a car crash in 2016.

Sam Foltz's mother Jill Foltz reads one of the many letters the family has received since the passing of their son.

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Once he made his way to the Michigan State sideline prior to Saturday’s pregame festivities, Gerald Foltz was tapped on the shoulder by a friend he had not seen in three years.

Foltz looked over his left shoulder and smiled as soon as he saw the tapper. It was former Spartans football coach Mark Dantonio. A big hug ensued, followed by some friendly conversation, before Foltz was told he needed to head for the 50-yard line.

“He’s a pretty good guy,” Foltz said.

After taking off his jacket, Foltz wasn’t sure where to put it. Dantonio volunteered to hold the jacket while the father of former Nebraska punter Sam Foltz went to join his wife Jill for the ceremony honoring their son and former MSU punter Mike Sadler.

Sadler and Foltz were killed in an car crash in July 2016 while attending a kicking camp in Wisconsin. This was the first time a game between the two schools had been played in Spartan Stadium since that accident.

The Foltzes carried Sam’s No. 27 white Nebraska jersey to midfield while Sadler’s mother Karen and sister Katie carried Mike’s green No. 3 jersey.

Also honored with the moment of silence was former Michigan State safety/linebacker Mylan Hicks, who was killed five years ago outside a Canadian night club while a member of the CFL’s Calgary Stampede. Hicks’ green No. 6 jersey was carried to midfield by his father Reggie Hill.

Approximately 1 hour, 45 minutes before kickoff, an airplane flew around Spartan Stadium and the nearby tailgate areas pulling a banner that read, “Bless You Boys! MSU #3 Sadler Nebraska #27 Foltz.” The Foltz text was in red.

Following the moment of silence for all three players and the playing of the national anthem by the Michigan State marching band, the Foltzes headed for the Nebraska sideline where they were greeted with hugs from Nebraska captain Cam Taylor-Britt and senior offensive analyst Ron Brown.

While waiting to go to midfield for the coin toss, Nebraska head coach Scott Frost came up behind the Foltzes and put his hands on their shoulders while greeting them as the Huskers came onto the field.

The Foltzes then walked to midfield with Taylor-Britt and Nebraska’s other captains, as did Karen and Katie Sadler with MSU’s captains.

“Sadler family, Foltz family, welcome to the coin toss,” referee Jeffrey Servinski said prior to the coin flip. Nebraska won the toss by calling "Foltz" and deferred their choice to the second half.

Safety Marquel Dismuke waited for both Jill and Gerald to return from the coin toss to wish them well and share a hug. Gerald Foltz, who worked hard to keep his composure throughout the ceremonies, shrugged when asked if it gets easier or harder to work through his emotions at these gatherings.

“I thought I was doing okay until I got here,” Foltz said.

Tight quarters

Spartan Stadium doesn’t put much distance between their benches and the first row of stands, making it one of the most intimate settings in the Big Ten between fans and players.

There is no room on either sideline to set up one of the enclosures used at other venues like Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium in which team trainers or physicians can take an injured player for a private examination.

Even with the extension of the space allowed for players and coaches to gather now stretches from the 20-yard lines, instead of the 25-yard lines, there isn’t room for all the equipment.

Several bags of gear, including footballs used during warmups, had to be kept outside of that 60-yard area because there was no room to store them behind the benches.

Keeping warm

The most popular spots on both sidelines were the heated benches.

As temperatures steadily fell into the low-50s following the kickoff reading of 60, those toasty locales were quickly occupied for strategy sessions with coaches when the offensive or defensive units came off the field.

Once they were plugged in, the benches took less than five minutes to begin fully doing their job.

Stripe the stadium

Attempts by Spartans officials to amp up the atmosphere and turn their home field into a hostile environment for the Huskers didn’t quite go as hoped.

At the MSU bookstore on Friday there were signs encouraging Spartans faithful to "Stripe the Stadium" by having certain sections wear green shirts and others white shirts.

Not all the people in their designated sections got the message, though the student sections, which were instructed to wear white, did an excellent job in the eastern reaches of the stadium.

The turnout by Nebraska fans who wore red was one of the smallest in recent memory. A contingency in a section of the south stadium was almost solid red, while there were smaller pockets of red along both sidelines.

Attempts to get the Spartans faithful to cheer when the public address would say “Nebraska, welcome to The Woodshed,” were greeted with next to no response. The loudest the crowd got during the pregame was when star running back Kenneth Walker III was introduced.

Powers Warren, not Warren Powers

While Nebraska hasn’t played Michigan State since 2018, and the Huskers had not visited Spartan Stadium for a game since 2014, one name on the Spartans roster jumped out as oddly familiar to older Huskers fans.

Powers Warren is a fifth-year senior tight end and a graduate transfer from Mississippi State. Warren Powers played for Nebraska from 1960-62.

Warren Powers later was head coach at Washington State and Missouri following a six-year professional career with the Oakland Raiders when they were both in the AFL and the NFL. His last season as the head coach at Missouri was in 1984 when the Tigers finished with a 3-7-1 record and tied for fifth place in the Big Eight Conference.


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