SPECIAL FEATURE: Barry Sanders Jr. chases father footsteps on his own terms
(Photo by Tim Hipps)
Barry Sanders Jr. sweeps left for a 10-yard touchdown run during the West team’s intrasquad scrimmage Tuesday in preparation for the 2012 U.S. All-American Bowl, set for Saturday at 12 noon CST at the Alamodome in San Antonio. The game is being televised live by NBC, right now.
SAN ANTONIO – Barry Sanders Jr. says he feels no pressure to live up to standards established by his father.
“People ask me the question all the time, if I’ll ever be as good as him, and I don’t think anybody will ever be as good as him – just by the numbers he put up,” Sanders said after Tuesday morning practice for the 2012 U.S. Army All-American Bowl. “So I just come out here and do what I can, and just work at it every day.”
The younger Sanders will play for the West in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl for high school seniors Saturday at 12 p.m. CST at the Alamodome. The game will be televised live by NBC.
With this event, the son of a man who became the third-leading rusher in NFL history in a short 10 years makes his debut on the national stage. The son knows the numbers his father generated: an NCAA single-season record 2,628 rushing yards en route to winning the 1988 Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma State and an NFL career-high 2,053 rushing yards in 1997, his next-to-last season with the Detroit Lions.
Selected for the Pro Bowl in each of his 10 seasons, the senior Sanders’ career rushing yards per game average of 99.8 yards rank second in NFL history behind only Jim Brown’s 104.3 yards per game. He set dozens of records en route to 15,269 NFL career rushing yards, which trail only Emmitt Smith (18,355) and Walter Payton (16,726). Though he did not play the position until the middle of his last high school season, his is listed as the most elusive running back of all time by NFL.com.
Sanders Jr., however, is not exactly sure about his own numbers, compiled during a career at Heritage Hall High in Oklahoma City.
“Career-wise?” he asked. “I think I finished at 5,000 career yards. I can’t remember how many touchdowns. I looked at the yardage, but I didn’t calculate the carries. I averaged around nine yards a carry.”
Along the way, he also lost track of career touchdowns.
“Maybe 50-plus or 60, I don’t know,” Sanders Jr. said. “I would have to go back and look, but I haven’t looked at that stuff in a long time.”
The Oklahoman reports that Sanders rushed for 1,343 yards and 20 touchdowns on 141 carries – an average of 9.52 yards per carry – during his senior season in 13 games for Class 3A Heritage Hall.
Standing 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighing 180 to 185 pounds, Sanders plans to keep growing.
“I hope so,” he said. “I’ll be 18 in April. I may have a couple more inches in me. My dad said he played best about 195. I don’t want to get too heavy.”
The elder Sanders topped out at 5-8.
Although the comparisons are inevitable, Sanders has enjoyed the challenge of being the son of a legendary running back.
“It’s not hard at all,” he said. “It brings about great opportunity and it’s up to me to take advantage of it. And I think I’ve done a great job of it.”
Just how good is this Barry Sanders?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess we’ll find out on Saturday. I guess the playing will speak for itself.”
Sanders is one of 99 players hoping to make a name in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
“We’re all dedicated,” Sanders said. “We got here for a reason. It shows when we’re out here on the field. We’re all focused and want to get better. We’re looking forward to having good college careers.”
Several players plan to announce their choice of colleges at the game. Sanders narrowed his field to Stanford, Florida State, Alabama and his father’s alma mater, Oklahoma State, not necessarily in that order.
“I’ll decide at the game,” he said. “I just hope to go out and make as few errors as possible as far as having my technique down on pass blocking, make sure I get the right guy and stay in front of him and keep the quarterback safe. When I get the ball, make sure I hit the right hole, make the right moves, and just do the little things right.”
During the West’s practice on Tuesday, Sanders received the biggest hit of the morning from Aziz Shittu, a 6-3, 275-pound defensive tackle from Buhach Colony High in Atwater, Calif.
“I was looking for the cutback and he was right there and made a good, clean hit,” Sanders said. “Aziz is a good player. We’ve seen each other on a couple of visits. He’s one of the more goofy guys. When I found out it was him, I was like, ‘Aw, man, he’s going to give me crap about that afterward.’ But it was good. I was glad it was him and not somebody else because he is a good dude.
“We’re all out here trying to do our thing and he did get me.”
Sanders later dashed 10 yards around left end for a touchdown.
“I guess that made up for it,” he said with a smile.
The U.S. Army All-American Bowl is considered a steppingstone for players hoping reaching the next level. Here, one can no longer count on domination through sheer talent.
“I’ve been thinking a lot before the snap to make sure I know exactly what I’m doing,” Sanders said. “I’m thinking probably more than I usually do. Everything doesn’t come as easy as it did playing with my high school team. Things are going fast. It’s definitely an adjustment. It’s going good, though. I’m having fun.”
The players are keeping busy and having fun off the field during Army All-American Bowl week.
“The guys from the West and East, we get along great,” Sanders said. “Last night, we went to the Hard Rock. We all joked, laughed and watched the OSU-Stanford game. We probably stayed up a little too late watching that because it ended late, but we’re all looking forward to competing Saturday, playing with the guys from the West and playing against the guys from the East.”
On Wednesday, the players will be paired with Soldier-heroes for a challenging evening of food and games. On Thursday, they will have a barbeque inside the Alamodome. On Friday, they will visit the Army Strong Zone, a sea of U.S. Army exhibits outside the Alamodome, and attend an awards banquet.
At some point, they must find time to rest for the main event.
“We are looking forward to the time when we get to lay our heads down and just get a quick nap or at night when we’re able to go to sleep because we’re out here working hard and after we eat, we’re all sleepy,” Sanders said. “That’s most of our routine when we’re back at home: play football, eat and sleep – so those three things get put into action this week.”
FUTURE PROSPECT: 6th grade football player hit with “Madre Hill Rule”
MALVERN, AR – Malvern hasn’t seen a football player like this for a long time.
“He is going to score almost every time he touches the ball,” said Wilson Intermediate School Principal Terri Bryant.
At the young age of 11-years-old, Demias Jimerson reminds a lot of people of Razorback great Madre Hill.
“If you were looking at them you would say they were very much similar,” said Darryl Baker, who coached Hill and now referees Jimerson’s games. “I mean they both run really fast, good kids, run with the same style.”
Like Jimerson, Hill attended Wilson Intermediate School and dominated the football field so thoroughly, the league invoked what came to be known as the Madre Hill Rule. Once Hill scored three touchdowns, if his team had a 14-point lead, officials banned him from scoring any more touchdowns. Now, for the first time since, the Wilson Intermediate Football League is using the Madre Hill rule again — to tackle Demias Jimerson.
“I got, kinda got shocked because I didn’t know that was gonna happen, but it did,” said Jimerson. Adding, “I’m ok with it.”
Principal Bryant, the defacto commissioner of the Wilson Intermediate Football League, says the rule isn’t meant to punish Jimerson. It’s there to help the other fifth and sixth graders on the field develop as football players too.
“The other players on both teams, 21 are just left sort of, this is all Demias,” she said. “So that’s why the Madre Hill Rule has been implemented.”
But the Madre Hill rule is only for fifth and sixth grades. Next year, Jimerson goes to seventh grade.
“I’m gonna run hard and bring our team to victory,” said Jimerson. Then he added, “but God always comes first, before anything, and grades second.”
God, grades, then touchdowns — Madre Hill Rule or not.
Jimerson played a couple of games this season before the Wilson League invoked the Madre Hill Rule. In one of those games, he scored seven touchdowns. Jimerson’s team is undefeated.
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MALVERN, AR – The namesake for the Madre Hill rule was in Malvern Tuesday night to see Demias Jimerson hit the football field.
Jimerson gained notoriety because his youth football league invoked the “Madre Hill” rule, which limits how many rushing touchdowns he can score. The rule is in place so other 5th and 6th graders will have an opportunity to develop as well as Jimerson.
“I try to fight through it hard, let other people score, not just me. My whole team is doing the same thing,” said Jimerson.
Jimerson plays in Malvern, at the same school Razorback great Madre Hill did. Hill came back to his old stomping grounds to watch Demias, and of course, to give him some advice too.
“He said keep on working hard, but make sure God always comes first,” Jimerson said of Hill.
Twenty-four years after the Wilson Intermediate Football League limited Hill’s touchdowns, he calls it a good idea, saying it did not limit his development as a football player.
“Looking back on my career, it was a learning experience that was great,” said Hill
Hill expects another young football player on this field to get the “Madre Hill” treatment in about two years. That player is his nine year old son.
“My Mom and Dad are still here and I truly believe my mom wouldn’t want to see him in any other uniform but a Leopard,” said Hill.