In his father's image: Barry James Sanders is familiar, but for more than his name
BY MATT BAKER World Sports Writer
Monday, August 30, 2010
8/30/10 at 4:48 AM
HE CAN OUTRUN an entire defense, turn broken plays into touchdowns, and once dodged six tacklers for a highlight-reel touchdown in the playoffs.
Yet there's something one of the country's top high school juniors will never be able to escape.
The OKC Heritage Hall running back is the son of that Barry Sanders - the former Oklahoma State Heisman Trophy winner, the NFL legend, the most elusive runner who has ever played the game.
The younger Sanders is only 16 but already has nine major-college offers, including OSU, Alabama and Notre Dame. He has led the Chargers to one state championship, and he'll likely be one of the country's top recruits for the class of 2012.
His balance, cuts and breakaways are good enough to draw the inevitable comparisons to his Hall-of-Fame dad, however unfair and unattainable those expectations may be.
"I haven't seen nobody, nowhere who reminds me of my son," said William Sanders, little Barry's grandfather and the older Barry's dad.
But Barry James Sanders might be pretty close.
Despite his name and pedigree, the younger Sanders didn't take to football immediately. He began his career as a defensive end in second grade - "I was a little chunky back then," he said - and was a backup until coaches put him at running back in seventh grade.
By the time he got to high school, Sanders was a budding star.
"He's got a lot of things he does like his dad," Heritage Hall coach Andy Bogert said. "He's got that innate ability to cut. Believe me, it's not coaching."
From Bogert or the older Barry.
Sanders wasn't born when his dad ran for 2,628 yards in 1988 en route to the Heisman Trophy. He was only 4 when his dad retired in 1998, 1,457 yards away from becoming the NFL's all-time rushing leader, so he doesn't remember going to any games in Detroit.
Sanders said his dad has shared a few pointers about workouts and nutrition but hasn't given him on-the-field instructions, other than to listen to his coaches.
So those ankle-breaking jukes and stutter-steps?
"That's all me," Sanders said with a smile after a recent scrimmage at Holland Hall. "That's all me."
Being the son of a football legend has other advantages.
Sanders said he got to meet running back Clinton Portis as the Pro Bowler congratulated his dad in 2004 upon his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"It's cool when guys that I look up to look up to him," Sanders said.
A running back called Barry Sanders is also bound to get noticed by recruiters scouring the country for, well, the next Barry Sanders. So how much of the buzz is because of his name, and how much is because of his game?
"That's a question I get a lot," Bogert said. "'Well, you know, he's Barry Sanders. He isn't that good.' Heck yeah, he's that good."
The numbers back Bogert up. Sanders has rushed for 24 touchdowns and almost 2,500 yards in two seasons with the Chargers.
MaxPreps named him one of the country's top freshmen after he led Heritage Hall to the 2008 Class 2A state championship, and he was the only sophomore on the Tulsa World's 2009 All-State team.
Like his dad, Sanders has the ability to turn what should have been 1-yard losses into highlight-reel touchdown runs.
Consider his 64-yard TD against Lincoln Christian in the 2008 playoffs - a clip that's been viewed 1.6 million times on YouTube.
Sanders lined up as a receiver and ran left on an end-around. He escaped one tackler, cut right and leapt over another. He shed another defender, dodged a few more and hurdled a teammate on his streak down the sideline and into the end zone.
"He jumped over a couple guys and did a little bit of everything you can do on a run," said Lincoln Christian coach Darren Melton.
"Give him credit. He should have been tackled for a loss or no gain."
Sanders and his famous father have a lot in common: deep-set eyes, iron calves, tree-trunk thighs.
But the two are also very different. Unlike his notoriously shy dad, who lives in Detroit and did not return an interview request through his agent, Sanders loves to talk with reporters. He has an electric personality and laughs a lot.
Sanders is bigger (5-foot-11, 190 pounds) than his dad (5-9, 203), and with a 40-yard dash time of 4.3 seconds, he might be a little faster, too.
The older Sanders was lightly recruited out of Wichita because of his size, but his son is a fixture of recruiting message boards and Web sites - who often list him incorrectly as "Barry Sanders Jr."
Sanders has grown up cheering for OSU and has been spotted in Stillwater wearing Cowboy orange and black. He has said he's keeping his recruiting options open but includes OSU as one of his top schools (with Notre Dame and Tennessee).
As for the pressure and attention that come with his talent and name, Sanders said he enjoys it.
"I know a lot of people would love to be in my same position," Sanders said. "I've been raised right, and it's carried on through this whole (recruiting) process. ... I know this is just the beginning."
In a way, that maturity comes from his father, too.
That, Sanders' grandfather said, has made the teenager "a father figure" to his younger brothers.
"He's crazy about all of them," William Sanders said.
The teenager refers to 8-year-old Nigel as "my oldest" and bragged to a stranger about Nigel's recent flag-football game.
"He was all right," Sanders said. "He had a couple nice spin moves."
Just like his big brother.
Barry James Sanders
School: OKC Heritage Hall
Stats: Rushed for 742 yards and 12 TDs as a freshman to lead the Chargers to the 2008 Class 2A state title. Rushed for 1,707 yards and 22 TDs as a sophomore. Had six INTs (two returned for TDs) and scored TDs on five of his 21 receptions.
College offers: Oklahoma State, Tulsa, Alabama, Ole Miss, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Arizona, Texas Tech, Texas A&M.
Honors: The only sophomore on the Tulsa World's 2009 All-State team. MaxPreps named him one of country's top freshmen; he shined at this summer's elite Top Gun camp.
Other: Coaches have clocked him at 4.3 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
Original Print Headline: Barry Sanders is familiar, but for more than his name
Matt Baker 581-8358
NATE BILLINGS / The Oklahoman
Only 16, Barry Sanders has offers from nine major college programs, including OSU, Alabama and Notre Dame. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World