Barry Sanders' son understands unique situation
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Writer
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
1/17/12 at 4:28 AM
Having a famous father isn't anything new. Being the son of a former NFL player isn't all that rare.
But when your dad is considered by many to be the greatest running back in football history - and when you even share the same name - things get interesting.
"I'm not the only NFL star's son that's ever gone to play college football," says Barry J. Sanders. "But it is a unique situation, and I understand the extra buzz around it."
Barry James Sanders shares more than the same name as his dad. He not only plays the same sport and same position.
He looks like his dad. He sounds like his dad. And, something the coaches at Heritage Hall High School and Stanford University are thrilled about, he runs like his dad.
"Yeah, I hope so," he said. "I hope so."
Sanders, a senior at Heritage Hall in Oklahoma City, announced last week he would play running back for the Cardinal. When he declared at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio - the final declaration during the game, hyped and promoted repeatedly on national television - he was surrounded by family, including his dad.
"You know, I'm just a proud parent," the elder Sanders said during the telecast. "He's done a great job. He's a fantastic kid."
Young Sanders said he hasn't tried to escape from his father's imposing shadow, but rather would try to cast his own.
"Everybody knows he's arguably the greatest running back to ever play the game," Sanders said of his dad. "I strongly believe, I don't think there'll be anybody else like him, or even close, so I just come out here and play."
They are physically similar. When Barry Sanders played at Oklahoma State and for the Detroit Lions, he stood 5-foot-9 and weighed a shade under 200 pounds. Young Barry - for the record, he's not Barry Jr. - is 5-10 and weighs almost 190.
The son isn't an exact copy of his father. No football player this side of Gale Sayers has run with such spectacular indirect effectiveness as Barry Sanders. The son recognizes his dad's one-of-a-kind running style.
"Yeah. I'll admit, I've watched a lot of film of his," young Barry said.
He says he doesn't necessarily try to mimic his dad's moves. That's impossible, after all, like trying to duplicate how popcorn pops. But he also says he can see similarities in how he and his father approach a tackler or a group of defenders or a sideline.
"It's just something that I've learned how to do, I guess. I mean, it's probably more of a mindset than genetics," he said. "It's that thought process which leads us to do certain moves, make certain actions."
Unlike his son, Barry Sanders wasn't a prized recruit when he came out of Wichita, Kan. As a sophomore backup at OSU, however, he was an All-American kickoff returner, then as a junior had a season that remains unparalleled: an NCAA-record 2,628 yards (7.64 per carry) and 39 touchdowns.
Wisconsin's Montee Ball this season finally tied Sanders' official single-season TD mark, but Sanders' record was set in 12 games, while Ball played 14. Also, Sanders' bowl-game totals - 222 yards, five touchdowns - are not counted in his season total.
In winning the 1988 Heisman Trophy, Sanders ran for 2,850 yards and 44 touchdowns.
Others before him had left school early for pro football ventures, but Sanders became the first college junior to declare early for the NFL draft.
In the NFL, Sanders lived up to his college fame by rushing for 15,269 yards (5.0 per carry) and 99 touchdowns. He became the only player in history to surpass 1,000 yards in every one of at least 10 seasons and still holds NFL marks for career rushing average with at least 2,500 carries, most 1,100-yard seasons and 1,500-yard seasons (career and consecutive), most yards gained over a four-year span (6,989) and most consecutive 100-yard games (14).
When Sanders retired at the age of 30, most felt he had more football to give, that he would have far surpassed the career rushing record of 18,355 yards later set by Emmitt Smith.
Yet the notoriously shy Sanders (he declined interview requests for this story) walked away at the top of his game and started his life after football. A few years back, he even rekindled his roots in Oklahoma, opening a car dealership in Stillwater and buying into a bank in Tulsa.
While his father maintained a life and family of his own in Detroit, young Barry grew up in Oklahoma City with his mother, Aletha House, and 4-year-old little brother. Aletha, who grew up in California, was a high school junior when she met Barry during his freshman season at OSU. She had the financial support of a retired NFL superstar and the emotional support of her own family. Young Barry's male role model is his grandfather, James House.
"That's the guy who's been at every game of mine in my career," the younger Sanders said. "Yeah, we're pretty close."
And growing up with a father who lives his own life four states away hasn't been a bad thing, young Barry says.
"I think having him in Detroit has kind of helped me just kind of learn things by myself, which has helped me become who I am," he said. "He's been a great influence on me. But I can say that me being with my mom and experiencing what I have without him has helped."
As his son became a recruitable athlete, the elder Sanders helped gather information as they met on recruiting trips to Tallahassee, Fla., Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Palo Alto, Calif. But that's about it. Not much advice on where he should go, and certainly no advice on how to run with the football.
"I think me and his mom just tried to be there for him and support him in whatever he was interested in," Sanders said on NBC during his son's game in San Antonio. "You know, give him a great foundation, and I think we've done that."
Did his dad shed any knowledge over the years about the game itself?
"As I recall, nothing," young Barry said. "He could care less if I played. He supports me in any way he can as life goes. But on the field, I can't think of any."
Young Sanders had qualified academically to go to OSU, Florida State or Alabama. But he needed a higher ACT/SAT score to get into his first choice, Stanford. So he retook the exams, then learned the day before the All-American Bowl that he had officially qualified.
"Yeah, it was good news. It was well-timed," he said. "Academically, I'm a little nervous. That's a school with that reputation being what it is, that's a little nerve-wracking. But I think I'll be able to handle it."
Original Print Headline: In name only
John E. Hoover 918-581-8384
Barry Sanders photo Associated Press file photo/Barry J. Sanders photo by JOHN CLANTON / The Oklahoman file/Illustration by JAMES ROYAL / Tulsa World
JOHN CLANTON / The Oklahoman file