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September 9, 2009

Barry Sanders' son looks like a future star

MORE: High School top 100 football teams |Mississippi FB star is a hero

The inside handoff to the fullback fooled no one. Of course that's often the case when it's a running play and the team pretends it's going away from its best runner.

So as Heritage Hall (Okla.) quarterback Turner Petersen held the ball, many of the Lincoln Christian defenders held their ground. Eventually, the ball was pitched back to a freshman - a 14-year-old freshman - on an end-around play.

And Barry James Sanders, son of that Barry Sanders, went to work.


Heritage Hall football coach Andy Bogert figured he was in good shape when he learned one of Barry Sanders' kids was going to join his program.

Bogert, however, had to see for himself, so he checked in on Sanders when he was playing in a junior high game.

First carry: 80 yards.

Second carry: 60 yards.

Third carry: 65 yards.

"We knew we had something special," Bogert said.

He also knew he had a problem.

His 2008 team was going to be dominated by 15 seniors, led by Petersen, a star in his own right. How would the team react to a freshman phenom - one who was sure to get the bulk of the media attention?

To prepare his team, Bogert addressed his players before last season. He said that Sanders would receive a lot of publicity because of his father's fame. That, he emphasized, was not Sanders' fault, and the players should not hold it against him.

"Ever since we got that all out in the open," Bogert said, "it really helped the dynamics of our team."

Petersen would go on to account for more 2,500 yards and two dozen touchdowns.
But that didn't mean the younger Sanders didn't get some chances, too.

Unlike his father, who famously had to wait two years to get his turn at Oklahoma State - starting only after Thurman Thomas left for the NFL - Sanders was a big part of the offense.

Sanders rushed for 742 yards and 12 touchdowns on 89 carries while helping his school go 15-0 and capture the 2008 Oklahoma 2A state title.

Bogert can only imagine how the next three years will go.

"He's just coming into his potential, and he's a pretty good back right now," Bogert said. "Barry's got the goods to become a great, great player not only in high school - in college and probably further."


The Lincoln Christian defensive end thought he had him in the backfield, but Sanders used his quickness to get around him. The defensive back thought he had him down low, but Sanders leaped over him.

Now it was a race to the sideline. Sanders, building up speed, shrugged off an attempted tackle by a linebacker.

That's right, a running back named Barry Sanders, seemingly trapped in the backfield, had eluded his pursuers and was off on a big run.



When he played in the NFL, Barry Sanders often was compared to Jim Brown.

But never to Jim Carrey.

Known for his unassuming and quiet nature, the elder Sanders tossed the football to the referee instead of celebrating after each of his 109 touchdowns. He passed on a chance to re-enter a game that was out of reach when the coaching staff offered to get him the 10 more yards he needed to win the rushing title. And, of course, he retired from the league seemingly at his peak, showing little concern for his place in the all-time record book.

He has stayed out of the public eye ever since.

The younger Sanders has that humbleness but also is an upbeat, jovial kid, who sports an ever-present grin. He disarmingly chuckled between a reporter's questions.

Last year - get this - Bogert reprimanded him for smiling after he fumbled during practice.

"I try to laugh as much as possible," Sanders said. "I've gotten my more talkative, outgoing side from Mom's side."

Some height, apparently, too.

Though just a sophomore (and one that won't turn 16 until April), Sanders is 5-11 and 180 pounds - or already three inches taller than his father.

He's more of an upright runner than his father - who had a seemingly pinball style of play while busting through and around the line of scrimmage. But he shares his father's exceptional field vision and precise cuts.

And there's the 4.44 time in the 40, too.

"There are a lot of similarities especially in the way they cut," Bogert said. "Some of the plays - you could probably superimpose them running together, and they'd look really similar."

Those similarities are inherited rather than learned.

Barry Sanders says he has focused on being a father instead of a coach to his son. He views Sanders hanging out with good peers and continuing to avoid negative influences as a far more important goal.

"I can't think of anything I've given him advice on as far as (playing) ball," Sanders said.

"There's going to be a lot of advice he's going to need, and probably the thing that he'll need the least help with will be football. … The football part of it - even though it's not easy - is a heck of a lot easier than a lot of this other stuff that us parents have to guide our kids on."

Sanders lives with his mother, Aletha House, in the Oklahoma City area. His father, who owns a car dealership and bank in Oklahoma, resides in Bloomfield, Mich. with his wife, Lauren, and his three other sons.

Sanders, however, keeps in constant contact with his son; he attends about half of his games. And he's happy to see that most fans allow him to be a dad.

"People are usually pretty understanding why I'm there," Sanders said. "And most people are watching the game as well. So it hasn't been that bad at all."


As he crossed midfield, there were no longer any Lincoln Christian defenders in front of them. One, however, was on the ground, courtesy of a solid downfield block. No problem. Sanders leaped over the pile and kept his balance while managing to stay inbounds.

One final defender was two steps behind - but he wasn't going to close the gap. Sixty-four yards later, Sanders was in the end zone.

The legend - the new legend - was just beginning. A week later, Sanders had three more touchdowns in the state championship game, a 37-7 victory.



This year's Heritage Hall team features just seven seniors and figures to be a sophomore-dominated group.

Sophomore Cale Courtney takes over at quarterback; linebacker Marc Robinson, who had 180 tackles and 12 sacks during 2008, will lead the defense.

But he'll get some help. Sanders will become a two-way player, starting at cornerback, too. He'll return kicks, too.

Despite Sanders' defensive and special teams skills, Bogert said his true calling remains at running back. The question, though, is not his position but his sport.

An excellent outfielder, Sanders said he likes both football and baseball equally and likely will select the one in which he has the most promise.

"Both of them are real fun," he said. "I'll choose which one probably junior/senior year and stick with it, but for now I'm just enjoying both of them."

He could pursue either of those sports at Oklahoma State. Although Sanders has an affinity for the Cowboys, he has not given much thought to prospective colleges.

"I would love to play down in Stillwater," he said. "Like any other player, if I do become a senior and opportunities come, I'll have to pick and choose from there. We'll see."

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