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1976 Undefeated Rutgers Football Team Member Nick Sauter Earns Biggest Victory Off The Field

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A key offensive lineman in the mid-seventies received a hail mary score due to the help of many

Robert Connizzo & Nick Sauter
Photo credit: Donna Tissot

I have great news to report, as a member of the 1976 undefeated Rutgers football team, Nick Sauter, has successfully received a new kidney. We covered Nick’s search for a donor previously twice last year and thankfully 34 year old Robert Connizzo stepped up to help. When we last reported on Nick’s story, he was in stage 5 of his years long battle with kidney disease and had complications with a blood infection that required additional surgery. Fortunately the issue was resolved and with Robert’s help, Nick was able to receive a new kidney.

I spoke to Nick a few weeks ago to see how he was doing and also get some insight on his experience at Rutgers.

“Everything is going really well”, Nick said. He continued, “The kidney function is normal, the doctors are pleased and and I’m feeling great. The surgery was pretty easy for me.”

Going through such a life saving ordeal requires a lot of hard work from many people. I asked Nick who was instrumental in helping him and he had this to say:

“I was very fortunate and blessed to have an advocator in my sister in law Donna Tissot. She led the nationwide search and we had close to 30 people that were interested. For whatever reason, healthwise or other wise, it boiled down to one person who was a match and willing to do it. That was a blessing. My wife Debbie is my caregiver and has been there from the very beginning and always helped me out. I was on dialysis for two years and I also had some other health issues too. I have to thank her and of course all of my family and my friends as well. I also got about 15-20 calls from teammates I hadn’t heard from in years, which made me feel really good.”

In talking to Nick about the 1976 Rutgers team that went 11-0 and finished 17th in the final AP Poll, he spoke about the immense pride he and his teammates still have for their experience.

“Despite the lack of recent success with Rutgers football, nothing can take away the pride that I have in being part of an undefeated team”, said Nick. He continued, “So few college football teams are ever able to accomplish such a feat. We also held one of the nation’s longest win steaks at the time, as well as being nationally ranked. It meant more back then before there were a million bowl games like there are today. We turned down a bowl game that season for financial reasons, but I’m really proud of what we accomplished at Rutgers. In four years there, we won 33 games. It’s something to be very proud of. I know in talking to my former teammates, we all feel that way. We are still proud to be a part of Rutgers. We wish the program nothing but success and we’d like to see that now.”

I asked Nick about his personal experience playing for legendary Rutgers coach Frank Burns and he was gave some great insight. “Frank was an interesting coach”, he said laughing because it was the first time he ever called him Frank instead of coach. “Coach Burns could make you cry or jump up and touch the ceiling. It depended on the mood he thought was needed that day”, Nick said.

He went on to say “I know every player on the teams I was on was willing to run through a wall for him. He was that kind of a motivator. He was a small guy, but very intimidating as a coach. If he didn’t like what he saw, he got your attention real quick. His staff was equally competent. I played for coach Tagia and he was a special kind of guy. He always had your back, he taught you good techniques and he coached you well. I had a wonderful coaching staff.”

Sauter was named a First Team-All East selection his senior season in 1976 after being a cornerstone of the Rutgers offensive line at right tackle for his career. He went on to be an assistant coach at three high schools and head coach at two high schools in the years that followed. His career included being a vice principal, athletic director, teacher, football and track coach. Nick also is an active member of St. Agnes Episcopal Church in Little Falls and helped with the church’s food pantry for years.

In addition, Nick and his wife Debbie are certified ambassadors for the New Jersey Sharing Network. They volunteered last year at their 5K in New Providence, NJ, as well as the October Fall Festival in Little Falls, NJ, and the Food Truck Festival in Denville, NJ. Their primary purpose in volunteering is to educate and promote the importance of organ and tissue donation. The NJ Sharing Network is the non-profit organization responsible for the recovery and placement of donated organs and tissue for those in need of a life-saving transplant. Nearly 4,000 New Jersey residents are currently awaiting transplantation. They are also part of the national recovery system, which is in place for the 115,000 people on the national waiting list.

Congratulations to Nick and his family on finding a kidney donor and having a successful transplant. I wanted to share his story and message, as well as create more awareness about such an important issue. I also wanted Nick to be able to share some stories from that great 1976 Rutgers football team, which will be remembered forever. The Rutgers community is a special one and we are lucky to have people like Nick Sauter among us.

Note: April is Donate Life Month and to learn how to become a donor, click here.

#62 Nick Sauter
Bert Kosup & Rutgers via Star Ledger/NJ.com