Sanson seeks to end the frustration
By MIKE CONNOLLY
Associate Sports Editor
Four years ago, Jim Sanson's friends and family from Arizona circled this week's game against Arizona State on their calendars.
It was supposed to be a celebration of Sanson's career at Notre Dame and a reunion with childhood teammate and Arizona State quarterback Ryan Kealy.
But all that has changed in the four years since Sanson signed his letter of intent to attend Notre Dame. Missed field goals and extra points have turned what was supposed to be a celebration into a do-or-die game for Sanson's career.
"My sister called me last night and asked me if we were going to have fun this weekend," Sanson said. "I told her we were definitely going to have fun this weekend."
For Sanson to have fun this weekend, he will have to have better results against the Sun Devils than he did against the Sooners when he missed two short field goals. The highlight of Sanson's effort last weekend was when he made a tackle on a long kick return by Brandon Daniels.
Sanson had difficulty enjoying the celebration over the first Irish victory in a month because of these struggles.
"Saturday night I had mixed emotion," he said. "I was so happy for my teammates because they played a great game but I wasn't happy with myself or the way I contributed."
Sanson's desire to improve and put the Oklahoma game behind him has weighed heavily on him entering the Arizona State game.
"The past three nights I have gotten six or seven hours of sleep because of the frustration with myself and my situation," he said. "I've been hard on myself about it and focused on what I have to do — what I can do here, what I should have done there. That's how hard I am on myself. That's much how I wanted to improve."
This season has been especially tough for his sister Katie who transferred to Notre Dame this year from the University of Arizona. Sanson tried to prepare her and his family for the criticism that he has faced his entire career and criticism they will surely hear this weekend.
"I tried warning her," he said. "It doesn't matter — good or bad — you have to be prepared for everything you have to take out there."
No one, however, prepared Sanson for the rollercoaster career he suffered under the Dome.
"It wasn't in the media guide," he said jokingly. "They didn't tell me anything about it on my visit either. I really didn't expect things to go this way."
He's had game-winning kicks against Texas as a freshman and Army as a junior and 0-2 performances like last week against Oklahoma. Sanson has gone from hero to goat in seconds.
An athlete comes to Notre Dame expecting a great education and a chance at the NFL. No one expects to receive death threats like Sanson did after his missed extra point led to an Irish loss against the Trojans his freshman year or animated greeting cards calling for him to quit like he has received this week.
Sanson, however, tries not to listen to the criticism.
"If they want to spend the time to do that — go ahead," he said laughing. "It will give me a good laugh every now and then."
Then he continued more somberly.
"But it hurts, too," he said. "You honestly can't say you don't care what other people say about you because you do, because of your pride. … I've got no problem with what people say or what they do but I demand more of myself than these people demand of me. … I understand that all these people have their opinions but all these people haven't gone out there and kicked either. But I also say to myself that I work out everyday so I am supposed to make those kicks."
Sanson believes that his previous struggles and rebounds have made him a better kicker and more able to respond to these current difficulties.
"I've been through this before," he said. "I am a seasoned veteran. When I go out there I know I can make it. I am not worried about that. I think I am still the guy for this team. I feel I am the better kicker. I haven't been productive this year but I am still working and I am going to prove that I am still a good kicker."
Sanson has had many chances before to prove he is a good kicker and has responded strongly. With every strong response, however, a poor performance has also followed a few weeks later.
Sanson knows that he might not get another chance if he slips again.
"In this situation I realize that if I get yanked it will be the last time I kick here at Notre Dame," he said. "Because I just can't see a coach going back and forth. It's not his style. It's not my style."
With his job on the line and his family filling the stands, some observers might feel that the pressure will be too much for Sanson. The four-year starter, however, says he is not worried about the pressure.
"It's a do-or-die situation," he said. "People can say that I am going to have pressure on me and it will cause problems. But it's not going to cause problems. Hopefully it will make me a better kicker and a better person."
In what might be his last week as a starter, Sanson is taking a relaxed attitude into the game.
"I am going to go out there this weekend and I am going to have fun," he said. "I am going to show off to people what I can do and if it's not good enough fine, they can get someone else who can do the job."
All Sports Stories for Thursday, October 7, 1999