Oakes touched by kindness of Nebraska’s Foltz #iufb

The direct message appeared when Griffin Oakes needed it most.

At 2:27 p.m. on Dec. 28, 2015, two days after Indiana’s loss to Duke in the Pinstripe Bowl — two days after Oakes’ game-tying, 38-yard field goal attempt went wide right to seal the overtime defeat — the Hoosiers’ kicker received a boost from a Big Ten acquaintance.

“Keep your head up bro!” Nebraska punter Sam Foltz wrote to him on Twitter. “You’re a hell of a kicker, can’t wait to play you guys next season! God Bless.”

Kind words to a hurting soul, the message stuck with Oakes as he pressed forward after that season-ending miss.

It also came to mind on the morning of July 24, hours after Foltz died.

The Cornhuskers’ rising senior was killed in an automobile accident in Wisconsin just before midnight on July 23. He was 22. Foltz and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler, who was driving, both died at the scene. Another passenger, Louisiana State kicker Colby Delahoussaye, survived.

According to published reports, the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department said speed was a factor in the single-vehicle accident, as Sadler approached a curve on a dark road that night.

Oakes, along with the rest of the Big Ten, mourned the loss of the two specialists, both of whom are remembered for their big and warm personalities.

Sadler, whose playing career ended after the 2014 season, was a four-year starter for the Spartans and once campaigned for the Heisman Trophy.

Foltz earned Big Ten punter of the year honors in 2015 and would’ve been a captain for Nebraska this season.

Oakes met Foltz in Indianapolis last fall to accept his own award as the league’s kicker of the year. The two hung out at the Big Ten Championship Game and Oakes mingled with Foltz’s family, as the two connected on a personal level.

“I got to see a little bit of his personality,” Oakes said. “He was one of the first ones to congratulate me when I was put on scholarship last year. He was always supportive of me. He went out of his way after the bowl game, which was hard on me. To see him realize someone was going through trouble like that and have him give a little bit of support went a long way for me.”

There is a clear bond between specialists at this level.

Often, as high school players, they travel to the same kicking camps to boost their recruiting profiles. They’re on the field together on game days long before everyone else. They know the unique pressures of kicking in the college game, and they know the weight of crushing failures, too.

“We’re pretty close when we see each other,” Oakes said.

So Oakes will hold Foltz’s memory close to him this season.
Oakes recently purchased a red wristband online that has a football, Foltz’s initials “SF,” the No. 27 and a tractor all painted in white. Indiana and Nebraska are set to meet for the first time as Big Ten opponents on Oct. 15 in Bloomington.

“I’m gonna wear it when it gets here,” Oakes said. “It should be here any day now.”

It’s a gesture of support to the Nebraska football family, the specialist community and an acquaintance who cared enough to lift Oakes during days of profound disappointment.

“To see that other players on other teams saw that and realized that was a painful situation for me, and not only me, but the team, too, was a big deal to me,” Oakes said.

3 comments

  1. Heartbreaking tragedy….Such a seemingly simple gesture to take a few seconds out of a day to be kind to a person feeling low….But so few have that sort of warming way and compassion shining bright from an eternal place in the heart; an untarnished desire to be decent and giving. So easy to speak of a “light”….So much more difficult to live as one. May they both rest in peace.

  2. It was a tragedy for those families and the guys they knew. I am glad Oakes got to know him before he died and got his message to help him out.

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