Valley’s Sandler to play ball at Arizona | AspenTimes.com

Valley’s Sandler to play ball at Arizona

Tim Mutrie

Next to the world’s largest silver nugget, wrested from Smuggler Mountain in 1884, Jaime Sandler may be this valley’s biggest export yet.

At 18 years old, he’s 6-foot-3 and 290 pounds. And he reckons he’s got another “inch or three” of growing left in him.

That’s not a concern for the University of Arizona, but rather the point.

Nicknamed “Goose” for his resemblance to the former Ravens All-Pro defensive lineman Tony Siragusa, Sandler, a 2002 Aspen High graduate, has signed to join the struggling Wildcats as a redshirt freshman in the fall.

He’ll be the first Aspenite to play for a Division I football program, one in the elite Pac-10 Conference no less.

“They kind of caught me out of the blue,” Sandler said yesterday from New Jersey, where he is finishing up a postgraduate year at Blair Academy. “I had a lot of interest from Division III schools, but then this came along.

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“I went for a visit, and it was great – the nicest facility I think I’ve ever seen.”

Sandler only first pulled on shoulder pads and a helmet three years ago. That was the fall of 2000, when Aspen High revived its football program after disbanding it in 1994 due to dwindling participation. Sandler, then an AHS junior who had been in the Aspen schools since kindergarten, played that year for the Aspen JVs. Not only did he enjoy it, he showed real promise.

The next fall, Sandler’s senior year, he arranged to play for Roaring Fork High School because Aspen was still a JV program and, frankly, no place for a 260-plus pounder. That year, Roaring Fork won the Class 2A Western Slope League Championship and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs.

For a second-year player, Sandler made great strides.

“He had a lot of potential that he hadn’t quite come into yet,” said Matt Hauptly, an English teacher at Roaring Fork. Hauptly is also the strength and conditioning coach for the football team and an assistant wrestling coach at Basalt High, where Sandler wrestled during his senior year.

“But it was his first year of varsity football. So he’s still a little raw, he’s still learning the game. But his upside, his athletic potential is huge – and he’s still growing,” he said.

“There’s no telling how big he’ll be, and for a big guy, he’s quick and fast and very aggressive.”

Sandler enrolled at Blair Academy this past fall to help refine his skills – on the football field and the classroom.

Colorado State and the University of Colorado-Boulder also expressed interest in him, Sandler said, but he was rejected by admissions for failing to meet stringent in-state criteria.

“I’m making the grades now,” he said. “And I think if I went back to Aspen I’d pull straight A’s.

“I think I really liked Arizona because they have a tutoring program specifically for athletes. There’s 28,000 people – you can definitely get lost,” he said.

Sandler will graduate from Blair Academy on May 24. After, he plans to return to his family’s home in Basalt, work at the Snowmass Club as a weight room attendant or at the front desk, and, more importantly, work out. Hauptly and Bill Fabrocini of the Aspen Club worked with Sandler last summer, and they plan to continue the conditioning regimen this summer.

“At the end of last summer, I timed him at a mid-5.5 second 40 [yard dash],” said Hauptly. “And I bet it’s down from that now.

“He’s a huge kid that’s athletic and that’s a commodity. It doesn’t surprise me that a school like Arizona took a shot at him.”

Sandler signed with Arizona on March 25, after the last scholarships had been doled out, he said. He hopes to become a scholarship player down the road.

As a redshirt player, Sandler will train and practice with the team, but he won’t see any playing time this season. After that, he’ll have four years of eligibility – somewhere on the defensive or offensive line.

Sandler’s sheer size remains somewhat of a mystery, he admitted with a chuckle. His parents, Matt and Helen, aren’t big, he said.

“No one’s really big in my family,” he said, “just my uncle, and he played football, too. But I think I’ve probably got another inch or three left.”

As for the photo of Sandler in his Roaring Fork uniform from the fall of 2001, he said: “I’m bigger than that now. I think I was only about 260 in that picture.”

And the nickname? “It just caught on. I’m 2,000 miles away and they’re still calling me that. But I don’t mind. I’ve got lots of nicknames.”

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