Cover Story: The Sash factor


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Tyler Sash reels off the names of some of his favorite NFL safeties.

Former Hawkeyes Bob Sanders and Sean Considine are among those who come up, along with Pro Bowlers Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed. It's difficult to narrow the list down to just one.

"There are so many different types of safeties."

What type is he?

"I don't know," he answers. "I'm just trying to fit in. I'm just trying to play the best football I can."

He goes on with a grin, "That's for [the media] to decide what I am."'

But what Sash won't say, his teammates will.

"He's a playmaker," sophomore cornerback Micah Hyde said. "He's Tyler Sash. Everybody knows about Tyler Sash."

The junior safety's 13 career interceptions rank fifth all-time in Iowa history, and his 392 career interception-return yards is the fourth-highest total in Big Ten history.

This season, Sash has recorded two interceptions and 54 tackles, and he is one of 10 semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe award, which is given annually to the nation's top defensive back.

The Oskaloosa native has started 30-consecutive games at strong safety, but he put his uncanny athletic instincts to use long before becoming a Hawkeye.

The Oskaloosa years

Oskaloosa High varsity football coach Darrell Schumacher refuses to classify Sash's heady playmaking propensity as his having a "knack."

That would be a disservice.

In 33 years as a high-school coach, he hasn't seen any player like Sash.

"He knew exactly where everybody was at on the field," Schumacher said. "If he caught a ball, he knew exactly where to cut. If there was somebody coming at him, he would try to run over him because he didn't have any options.

"There were so many times where he cut back, I didn't know what he was looking at, but he sure knew where he was going. That's an athletic awareness — not everybody has that."

You name it, Sash did it for Oskaloosa, although most of his fame came from his plays at running back and receiver. Without a favorite position, he said "I just liked when I got the ball" — which probably explains why Sash proposed the idea of playing quarterback under shotgun to Schumacher.

"I said, 'I don't think we want to do that,' " Schumacher said and chuckled.

By the time Sash graduated in 2007, he held or tied 28 school records, including total career touchdowns (63), total yards (4,310), and single-game rushing yards (324).

As Schumacher put it, Sash "had so darn many highlights, I don't know what to tell you."

The 6-1, 210-pounder's highlights weren't limited to the gridiron.

In addition to being a Division-I football prospect, Sash also had numerous offers to play D-I basketball — which he describes as his first true love. Schools such as Iowa State and Nebraska were hoping to acquire his services at point guard.  

But then Kirk Ferentz called.

Sash was on his way home from the 2006 state track meet in Des Moines, having just competed in another sport at which he excelled.

"I always loved basketball," Sash said. "But as soon as I got offered by Iowa — my dream was always to go to Iowa and play some sport. It didn't matter what sport. It just so happens that I'm playing football now."

Now, after undergoing surgeries to both of his shoulders in each of the last two off-seasons, basketball seems long lost in the rear-view mirror.

Senior tight end Allen Reisner — who also played basketball in high school — joked that Sash has become a stiff.

"He's a little older. He was a little more elusive. He weighed a little less, too," Reisner said with a grin.

Sash quips in return: "I can't even move my arms, that's probably why."

Still, he believes there has been carryover from the hardwood to the gridiron.

"If you're guarding a quick point guard, you have to anticipate a lot of things," he said. "If you want to get a steal, that translates to playing defensive back, I think."

His father, Mike Sash, said he believes that his son's exposure to elite competition in AAU basketball helped him develop as an athlete.

Sash played on the Martin Brothers' squad with the likes of Matt Gatens and former Wisconsin guard Jason Bohannon.

"I just think playing competition at a high level, even though it wasn't football-related, just to play against a lot of kids that are very, very gifted and athletic, I'm sure has just helped him a lot," Mike Sash said.

Right place, right time

Tyler Sash always seems to be around the football.

It's happened so frequently — see his three-interception performance at Iowa State in 2009 as an example. And it has happened in strange fashion — see his pinball-esque game-changing interception last season against Indiana — that many people have simply labeled him as "lucky."

Teammates sometimes give him a hard time, but they know there's a reason Sash is usually in the right place at the right time.

"When it comes down to it, he's making those plays. He's there. He's in the position. And that comes from watching film," Hyde said. "He's a smart football player."

Sash credits that work ethic to his upbringing. He always tagged along to play sports with his older brother, Josh, and his older sister, Megan.

Their way of "bullying" little brother was to compete with him and push him to become better in everything he did, he said.

"My dad instilled that in me," Sash said. "You're not going to get anything unless you work hard for it. Nothing's ever going to be handed to you. You have to earn everything you do."

But other Hawkeyes say Sash's very best quality may be something even less tangible.

"He's got an attitude. A confidence," senior offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde said. "It's not cockyness. It's not, 'Oh, I'm better than everybody else.' It's he knows he's good enough to do his job as well as anybody else. So he goes out and does it."

Senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi — who calls No. 9 "Sashcalade" for the white Escalade he drives — describes it as a "swag factor."

But when trying to digest such plays as Sash's interception and impromptu lateral that led to a Micah Hyde touchdown in Iowa's 37-6 win over Michigan State, maybe there's a simpler explanation.

Maybe it all goes back to his point-guard mentality, his "athletic awareness," as Schumacher called it.

Right place, right time? Think again.

"That's hard — you don't coach that," Stanzi said. "… Things like that, they build up, and that's how you become a playmaker."

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