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Josh Sanguinetti brings ‘fearless’ mentality, ready to step up at safety

There was a play late in last season’s game against Ohio State that still remains in Marcelino McCrary-Ball’s mind. McCrary-Ball wasn’t on the field. In fact, he was out for the entire season with a torn ACL. The sequence, however, sticks out because of what Josh Sanguinetti did.

The Buckeyes held a 42-28 lead in the fourth quarter when quarterback Justin Fields rolled out to his right. He fired a pass to five-star freshman wide receiver Garrett Wilson, who tiptoed on the sideline to try to haul it in. But Sanguinetti, who was listed more than 15 pounds lighter than Wilson and playing in his first season, came flying in. Sanguinetti lowered his shoulder into Wilson’s back, leaving Wilson face down on the turf as the ball popped out for an incompletion.

“Josh,” McCrary-Ball said. “Is definitely fearless.”

Josh Sanguinetti signals incomplete during Indiana's loss to Iowa on Sept. 4, 2021 in Iowa City. (Ross Abdellah/HN)

Sanguinetti showed that trait again in Indiana’s opening loss against Iowa Saturday. When starting safety Devon Matthews went down with an injury in the first half, Sanguinetti stepped in, making two tackles and recovering a fumble in the fourth quarter. Now a redshirt sophomore, Sanguinetti figures to be a key part of the secondary for the foreseeable future, given the unknown recovery time for the multi-year starter Matthews.

“I’m just going to make the best of it,” Sanguinetti said. “Just like coach said when another guy steps up there should be no letdown. I’m making sure that there’s no letdown.”

Sanguinetti’s hard-hitting mentality started during his youth. He and his friends used to play two-hand touch on the street or tackle on the grass. But Sanguinetti and his brother were always the youngest of the group, so “we had to be tough,” he said. One time, Sanguinetti rocked one of his friends with a big hit near the sideline.

“He got mad at me,” Sanguinetti said with a laugh.

Sanguinetti packed a lot of power in his hits, despite having a relatively wiry frame. At University School, a prep academy in Ft. Lauderdale, Sanguinetti recalls only weighing about 160 pounds. On Tuesday, McCrary-Ball joked that Sanguinetti was only “95 pounds.” In reality, Sanguinetti is currently listed at 6-foot-1, 185 pounds.

What he lacked in physicality, he made up for with his instinct and wingspan, which measures 6-feet-8. He used it to his advantage in high school, where he’d lure quarterbacks into thinking the wide receiver was open, only to use length to break up passes. As a result, he was University School’s all-time interceptions leader with 24.

There were a variety of turns in Sanguinetti’s recruiting process. He was once touted as a five-star prospect in the 2018 class, but dropped significantly in the recruiting rankings as his career unfolded, potentially due to the fact that he was undersized. At one point, he had a top final list that included Auburn, Florida, Michigan and Miami, among others. But he waited too long to sign and many rosters had already filled up.

But Sanguinetti kept pushing forward, something that he learned from his parents, who are both from Jamaica. They eventually moved to the United States, where Sanguinetti was born. His father wakes up around 3 or 4 a.m. to work at the Ft. Lauderdale airport. His mother wakes up early to work as a nurse’s assistant.

“That just drives me to do better,” Sanguinetti said. “One day, I can hopefully retire my parents because they work hard to this day, every day.”

Sanguinetti eventually took a visit to Indiana and committed shortly after. He redshirted his first year in Bloomington. Then, last season he made six appearances, tallying eight tackles while playing behind Matthews and Jamar Johnson, who was drafted by the Broncos this spring. But he learned from both, frequently watching film with Matthews. He also embraced Johnson’s aggressive “see ball, get ball” mentality.

Entering this year, Sanguinetti was again on the second unit behind Matthews and Raheem Layne, who was returning from a season-ending injury. Sanguinetti did, however, take some first team reps during fall camp so he’d be ready for moments like Saturday.

I thought he did a really good job,” IU head coach Tom Allen said of Sanguinetti. “I want...him to develop and communicate at a higher level, but he made some plays for sure.”

Sanguinetti has been eating 4-5 meals per day to try to bulk up. But regardless of his stature, he keeps the same mentality he had as a kid, while playing against older kids on the street.

“You can’t play scared,” Sanguinetti said. “You just gotta be fearless. It don’t matter about your size. It’s about your heart.”

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