By Tony Softli & John Gerding
It’s possible one of the most impressive playmakers of all time has passed his elusive genes to his son. Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders is the proud father of the eighth-ranked running back recruit in the nation, Barry J. Sanders of Heritage Hall in Oklahoma City.
Barry Sanders (Sr.) moved like a pinball. He rolled off defenders by spinning, juking, and shimmying his way out of a tackle. When Barry Sanders entered college he wasn’t looked at as much because of his short height of 5-8. He went on to prove that size doesn’t matter if you have speed and technique.
Sanders holds NCAA records for single-season rushing yards (2,850), single-season touchdowns (42) and 32 other records. He finished his pro career at the age of 30. In the NFL, Sanders is third in all-time rushing yards, eighth in touchdowns, fourth in carries, and fourth in total yards (receiving and rushing combined) among many of his records.
Perhaps most memorable of Barry Sander’s career was his speed, a trait his son flashes with 4.4 speed (40-yard dash time). Barry J. is slightly taller than his father at 5-11, but 10 pounds lighter at 190.
After watching videos of both father and son, aside from the uniform, they run very similarly. Both easily out ran defenders along the sideline and when Barry J. met someone in a closed space, he used the same stop, juke, and go that his father blasted people with during his career. Sanders (Sr.) had a nightmare-inspiring spin move that his son uses too. What I didn’t see too much in Sanders (Sr.) is the stiff-arm technique that his son utilized to give himself just enough space to accelerate to the “next level” that scouts talk about. Sanders (Sr.) has been a terrific example for Barry J as shown in highlight videos of Barry J. juking, spinning, and bursting by defenders.
Barry J.’s list of possible universities, at one point much longer, has been tightened down to the Stanford Cardinal, Alabama Crimson Tide, Florida State Seminoles, and the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
Alabama would be a popular choice for their consistent game plan of running the ball and lack of personnel in the position. Last year it was behind the legs of current Saint Mark Ingram and this year it was behind future NFL back Trent Richardson (expected to be drafted in 2012). The Crimson Tide has shown significant interest in Barry J. by visiting Heritage Hall weekly. They’re looking for a running back to replace Richardson with the likelihood that he turns pro.
Stanford has a steep backfield with beasts like Stephan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney, and Anthony Wilkerson. Like Wisconsin, they have a strong running game behind great blockers and utilize their running backs well. Barry J. has already visited Stanford and gone through the application process, but still has not made his decision known.
Florida State suffered a huge loss with speedster Chris Thompson breaking his back earlier this year. Barry J. would have to fight off fellow freshman Mario Pender for playing time but Barry J. possesses the blinding game-changing speed the Seminoles search for.
Finally there is Oklahoma State. The Cowboys run a version of the spread offense, which doesn’t favor Barry J.’s style. They also are deep and young in the backfield giving Barry J. a rough road to the starting lineup should he choose to follow in his father’s footsteps. The biggest attraction of the Cowboys other than “be like dad,” is how well the team performed this year offensively resulting in being ranked third in the BCS standings.
This gives an all-new angle to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl featuring Stanford and Oklahoma State. Whether it factors into Barry J.’s decision will be something for fans to question after Jan. 7, 2012, the day Barry J. announces where he will go to play football. The announcement will come after the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio.
Keep in mind there will only be one Barry Sanders. I remember watching Sanders run. He had eyes in front, side and back of his head on every carry. He was exceptional in tight space to make several players miss by stringing together moves within one run and making several defenders look foolish in open space with change of direction, cutting ability with stop and go skill set. Where the elder Sanders was exceptional, he could burst through the hole and with a single cut, setting up the defensive backs at the third level.
Junior has a skill set that will make him a professional prospect in time. But he has a lot to learn about the game. Genes have a lot to do with it, but production is what we will all be looking for. If he excels even close to his father, he will be a very good running back in the future.