Sanson Making a Name for Himself
BY MIKE DAY
Assistant Sports Editor
AUSTIN, TX — The “foul ball” kicker hit a home run.
And Jim Sanson’s 39-yard field goal wasn’t just your average four-bagger. This one was a ninth inning, game winning grand slam. “It was a dream come true,” said an elated Sanson following the game. “I always dreamed about playing at Notre Dame. But I never though I’d have the chance to make a game winning kick.” Deemed “foul ball” by Irish head coach Lou Holtz for his erratic boots in practice, the freshman was determined not to let a mediocre week of workouts carry over to the game.
“It (the nickname) kind of got me mad,” said Sanson. “I wanted to prove him wrong sort of. I told him to keep calling me that so I can prove him wrong every week.”
With two field goals in Notre Dame’s 14-7 victory over Vanderbilt in the opener, Sanson teased the Irish faithful into believing that they had found the answer at place kicker. But Sanson’s embarrassing miss last week against Purdue brought the same old questions to the forefront once again. To make matters worse, Sanson’s struggles in practice promted Holtz to jokingly give him the unflattering nickname. “I told him ‘you kick more foul balls than any place kicker in the histroy of the game,'” said Holtz.
However, on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Sadium, Sanson turned a three year liability at place kicker into an effective weapon. The freshman recorded three touchbacks, keeping Notre Dame’s suspect coverage team off the field.
“Back home (Phoenix, Arizona), we used to practice at a park, kicking between two palm trees,” said Sanson. “Now, I pretend there’s two palm trees out there. I try to kick it between them as high as I can.” After the Irish opening drive stalled at the three yard line, Sanson nailed a 20-yard field goal with 5:27 left in the first quarter to cut the Texas lead to 7-3.
But it was his final kick of the day that carved his place in Notre Dame football history.
As the Irish faced third down at the Texas 34-yard line with 12 seconds left, it looked as though Sanson would never even get his shot at winning the game.
“If it had reached that point, we would have gone for it on fourth down and played for overtime,” said Holtz.
On the other sideline, Texas kicker Phil Dawson is well known for having one of the strongest legs in the country, and he lived up to his billing, kicking a 47-yard field goal early in the third quarter. However, entering the game, few had heard of Notre Dame’s freshman place kicker. They have now.
Sanson calmly stepped into the national spotlight and delivered. With a good hold from punter Hunter Smith, Sanson cleanly sailed the ball between the palm trees, or rather the uprights. Sanson never doubted it for a second.
“I knew it was going in, but I don’t think anyone else did,” said Sanson. “I felt like for a while that I was the only one out there celebrating.” “I was real nervous, but all I kept saying was ‘Give me the ball.’ I knew the offense would get us down there. All I wanted was the ball, and all I wanted was a chance.”
He got his chance, and this time “foul ball” put the kick in fair play. In fact, he knocked it out of the park.