by Rob Loeber
If you watch Heritage Hall senior Barry Sanders run the football, you can easily picture him wearing a light blue jersey and a silver helmet just like his father did throughout the nineties with the Detroit Lions. The younger Sanders is an electrifying talent and even though he may not be Hall of Fame material just yet, he is ready to take the next step in his football career. Sanders is one of the top recruits in the country and would be welcome at any of the premier division one college programs. I recently sat down with Sanders and asked him about carrying the weight of lofty expectations, how he’ll make his college choice, and what’s going through his mind as he tears through an opposing defense. The following is an excerpt from that interview.
Loeber: Barry you’ve been given this amazing talent, but with that talent means expectations are also extremely high. Can having the name Barry Sanders be a blessing and a burden at the same time?
Sanders: I’ve thought about it, and I think it’s more of a blessing than anything. It’s a lot of opportunity that comes with it and I’ve just been trying to capitalize on it and do the best I can with it.
Loeber: Do you remember the first time you saw your dad run the football?
Sanders: I do remember going to a couple games. I remember the first few times and I remember watching some of his highlights and realizing how great he was. I’m still amazed at what he was able to do.
Loeber: Football or not, what’s the best piece of advice that he’s given you?
Sanders: Probably just to be the best man you can be. We’ve talked about a lot of things off the field, but that’s probably one of the biggest things you know, take care of what you have to take care of and be responsible.
Loeber: Does it ever feel like the expectations placed on you are too high?
Sanders: If you ask me, no. My mom and my grandpa might have something different to say but I would say no because I don’t look at it as expectations. Like I said, it’s opportunity. It’s opportunity hopefully to be one of the greats you know, that’s all you can ask for.
Loeber: Do you ever wish for a day or a week of anonymity, or do you kind of embrace the fact that you are the face of this (Heritage Hall) program?
Sanders: That’s a tough question. I mean yeah, I think I’m a great representation of what this school is all about. We’ve had a lot of great people, we do have a lot of great people at this place, and I’m one of the few so any way I can give this school a great name, I’ll be happy to do so.
Loeber: The tape that I’ve seen of you, when you run the football it really does look like the defenders are moving in slow motion and you’re three or four moves ahead. It does compare to a video game, I’m sure you’ve heard that comparison before. What does it feel like to run the football that way?
Sanders: (Laughing) It depends who you ask. If you ask a lot of people, they’ll say its 3A, that’s why I’ve been able to be so successful. It’s not 6A, it’s not college, but I go out there and compete. I know a lot of the runs I have made have looked easy and I will say on record, they haven’t been. Growing up, I’ve had a lot of people tell me, ‘You’re not running hard.’ I always told them, ‘I am, trust me I’m running as hard as I can.’ I’m a very patient runner, and I think that’s what they see, just me being patient and seeing how different guys react and my reactions to their reactions, but trust me when I say I’m definitely giving it my all when I have the ball in my hands.
Loeber: Because of your size and because of your running style, there are going to be questions about your durability. Are those questions fair?
Sanders: Yeah, I know my dad is one of the exceptions, he’s a small guy and he was able to stay healthy for ten years in the NFL. Then there’s a guy like Emmitt Smith who had a lot of injuries but was able to be successful. As the years go, I know injuries will come and it happens to everybody so I can understand how they could expect me to have more because I am a smaller guy compared to the Adrian Peterson’s of the world. I don’t look at it as a negative, just them seeing my size.
Loeber: You’ve narrowed your college choices down to Oklahoma State, Alabama, Florida State, UCLA, and Stanford. How much does that decision weigh on you?
Sanders: I will say I can’t remember a day where I haven’t gotten asked where I’m going to school, at least while I’m in town. When I’m out of town, it’s a lot easier. It’s expected, I know I’m not the first one or the only one to go through this so I’m just going through the process day by day and hoping people accept wherever I decide to go.
Loeber: On the one hand, it’s got to be a privilege and an honor for you because you can play at any school in the country. On the other hand, everybody wants a piece of you and everybody wants a piece of your time. What are the best parts, and what are the worst parts of the recruiting process?
Sanders: The best part is just being able to travel, meet a lot of great people, coaches, different players, and fans. Like you said, the downside is everyone wants a piece of us, and we have a target on our backs. Our coaches let us know, we just have to work that much harder to make sure we’re able to handle it.
Loeber: I’m not going to ask because I know you’re not going to tell me where you’re going to school or what the decision is going to be so I’ll just simply ask you this: Is there a timetable for when you’re going to make that decision?
Sanders: Probably at the Army All-American game, that’s what I’m thinking now. It could be sooner depending on how these next couple months go. I know my mom, she hasn’t been to any of these places yet, so she wants me to take her on these officials (visits) and see them for herself. We’ll see how those go, and see what she thinks.
Loeber: You’ve won two state titles here at Heritage Hall and every division one college in the country wants you to play for them. What’s left? Where does the hunger continue to come from and what’s the driving force behind you?
Sanders: Yeah but I think I have a lot more room to grow as a running back. There’s a lot more things that I’ve worked on this year, a lot of mental things. Each year I’ve played both ways, my sophomore year was the first year I started both ways and that was hard but each year I’ve grown so I’m hoping to grow this year and be more durable. That’s one of the main things.