RAZORBACK Q & A:
In football, the center is often referred to as the anchor of the offensive line. He is the foundation and the strongest most reliable part of the unit. Perhaps that is why Kenny Sandlin seems right at home at center. Physically, he is a dominant force, controlling the line of scrimmage, protecting the quarterback, and clearing a path for running backs. But his greatest contribution is in the area of mental, and emotional leadership. His intensity and concentration level set the standard for the rest of the team. He perfectly exemplifies the Razorback spirit. He plays with heart, with courage, and with pride, and he will never give up. So I made him the "center" of attention in this week's Razorback Q & A.
NATHAN STRIEGLER: You had a real tough loss this week at LSU, but even up to the last minute you guys seemed poised for another miracle finish. What was the attitude of the team as the game wound down?
KENNY SANDLIN: Well honestly we thought we were gonna win the game. That's been our attitude for the last seven weeks. We've become so tight and such a family that we just stick together, and up until that last (LSU) first down we though we would win. This team never quits. Even when we were down 16, there was still no doubt that we were gonna win the game. That shows the character and the intestinal fortitude of this team, that no matter what, we're gonna stick together to the end. It's been such an awesome season to turn things around the way we did. We've made bonds that will last a lifetime. At the first of the season the coaches brought in some former Razorbacks to show us what that was about. We didn't get it then, but now we can understand what they were talking about. You should never forget what it means to be a Razorback.
NS: How frustrating was it to keep getting the ball back on turnovers and not being able to capitalize on them?
KS: It's very frustrating, especially for our defense. I mean they give us five turnovers and we only get 19 points off of them. You can't do that against a good team and win. A lot of those times it was kinda like the first of the season, where we're so close and if we do just one more little thing right, then we score. The only thing we can do now is forget about that. We don't want that game to ruin what we've accomplished this season. We're going on to our fourth straight bowl game. I also think we've installed in these young guys what it means to be a Razorback: To never quit. To never give up. No matter how many times you get knocked down you get back up and keep trying. We don't want to tarnish that and we want to go down with a bang. I love this team so much because after the game all of the young guys were saying we're sorry, but I saw this look in their eyes that said, " We're gonna send you out right." We're want to go out with a bang.
NS: What adjustments did LSU make to slow down the running game, particularly the option?
KS: Well they had two weeks to prepare for our offenses. I think that was the key. You can't get prepared for two offenses in a week. You have to give their coaches credit because they were ready. They were doing some different things when Matt (Jones) went in, like having two linebackers specifically keyed on him. We were able to take advantage of that some in the passing game, but not as much as we should have.
NS: How long did it take for it to sink in that you had actually lost a game?
KS: I think it sunk in for me about ten minutes after when I was in the locker room taking my pads off. It's taken from then until honestly, today to get over it. It's hard when you have so much confidence and you put yourself in a position to win the game. It's a hard pill to swallow. But we're not going to let this tarnish our season. We've got one more game.
NS: It's obvious that the senior leadership has been huge this year. How important do you think that has been to the development of this team?
KS: It's been very important. Senior leadership is probably the key to any team, just because they've been in the battles. They know what's going on. They've been on tough road trips. They know how loud 90,000 people in Death Valley are. You have to be focused and prepared. They also know to not give up and to know that when things go bad you've got to pull together. When you're a senior you see the light at the end of the tunnel and it's staring you right in the face. You realize how precious every game is and how everything works together. When you're young you just go with the flow. You just want to get out there and play. I think seniors are more worried about the team than themselves. At the beginning of the season the coaches were a little bit worried about us because of the number of seniors. But we talked to coach Nutt and just asked him to challenge us and let us control the team. We may not have a senior at every position but we have influential seniors, guys that every one follows: Myself, Jermaine Petty, Carlos Hall, Lazarius White, Curt Davis, Shannon Money. They may not be outspoken, but they're actions are speaking for them. That trickles down the ranks through your juniors, sophomores, and especially the freshmen. As many freshmen as we played this year, we had to take those guys and say " Look, this is how things are gonna happen. This is what you've got to do." If something goes wrong we told them to forget about it and go out and have some fun.
NS: Talk about the contributions of some of these freshmen.
KS: There are so many of them. On the offensive line you've got Shawn Andrews. That guy is just a freak. He's going to be very special. He's gonna go a long way if he just continues to listen to the coaches and continue to do what he's doing. He gets better every day. Then you've got Matt Jones. Every one of these guys is a freak to me just because of the raw ability that God has given them. Matt is from the same hometown as me (Van Buren). I also knew Clarke Moore (Van Buren) who redshirted this year, so those two guys are kinda special to me. With Matt being a quarterback and me being a center it's been cool trying to help him out. For Matt to be able to step in to the situations that he did as a true freshman is amazing. He didn't make many mistakes this year. At fullback we've got Mark Pierce, who's done an unbelievable job stepping in at a position where we really needed him. We've got Decori Birmingham at running back and receiving kickoffs and he's just done an awesome job. George Wilson isn't a freshman to me because I've been with him for three years now. It's amazing to think about what he's going to do with this team because he's already playing and acting like a senior. He's a great kid and he knows the importance of football in the whole realm of life and he'll be one of the best leaders on this team in the future. Then we've got Batman (Ahmad Carroll) who has done a nice job of stepping in. Jeb Huckeba has done a great job at linebacker. David Carlton has been great at kicker. If you look at the freshman and sophomore class, you can tell that this team is going places. On top of the other guys I named there are probably five or six other guys that could have easily played. Tarvaris Jackson played some. He's going to be a great quarterback. I wish I had another year with this team. I wouldn't doubt that in the next two years this team is playing for the national championship, especially if they remember what they learned this year. Coming together to overcome anything. To move mountains, playing as one family.
NS: What would you hope that these young guys would learn from you?
KS: From me personally I hope that they would learn to go out and have fun and to give your best no matter what happens. To keep fighting, and never give up or quit. Football is a great game and I love it. But there are a lot more important things in this world. You can take what you have learned in football and use it in your everyday life to be successful.
NS: Early on in the year the offensive line caught some criticism but has now become a strong backbone for the offensive unit. What brought about this change?
KS: There are a lot of things. First of all everybody in the country knew we were gonna run they ball and they would put eight or nine guys in the box. I don't care who you are; you're not going to run against that. Second, we made some changes. We brought in Shawn Andrews and moved Bokerman over to guard, which I think was a key. Bokerman has been unbelievable at guard and moving me to center where I can be a vocal leader. Once that happened, once our continuity came and we gelled as a unit, I think that was the true key.
NS: Did you know that the Hogs are third in the SEC in rushing yards and are now tied with LSU for the SEC lead in rushing touchdowns (23)?
KS: I didn't know we were that high honestly. Wow. I knew we had three games with 300 yards rushing. Those are the kind of honors that you take for the offensive line. I think part of that has been the option. That wrinkle makes it hard for the teams to prepare. You have to give a lot of credit to Zak Clark and Matt for handling the system the way they did. That's the reason this offense was successful, because of those two guys encouraging each other, helping each other and not being selfish. That is why our offense was able to turn around.
NS: What players and coaches have impacted you most?
KS: As far as the players go, I would first have to point out Russell Brown, Grant Garrett, Brandon Burlsworth, and Chad Abernathy. Those guys were juniors and seniors my first two years here. Especially Grant because I was a center at that time and I backed him up. He taught me a lot, like some little tricks of the trade. The desire that those guys had was amazing. They were so hungry. Coach Markuson and Coach Nutt have really been influential on my career. Coach Markuson has really helped me out. I can talk to him about anything, football or not, and he really listens. Both of them have taught me so much about football, and about family aspects.
NS: In your five years here, how have you changed?
KS: I've changed a lot. When I first got here I was real selfish with my athletic ability. All I though about was how football could get me things. How could it get me all-conference or All-American? But two years ago I rededicated my life to Christ and that's been the most instrumental change in my life ever. Things have been so awesome since then. I've met my fiancée and I've played better on the field. No matter what happens, I know that God is in control and the battle is already won. All I have to do is rejoice in that. I've also had that change that every person in college goes through when you start to really respect your parents a lot more when they're not they're to do your laundry and cook for you. You really start to cherish your time with them.
NS: Describe the feeling of your final home game.
KS: There were so many feelings. Excitement. Sadness. It was awesome; especially to win it the way we did with the offense driving the ball 75 yards for the win. I really couldn't have scripted a better ending. To be able to do all that and to have my family and friends there the last time I walked out on the field was awesome. It was definitely a day I'll never forget.
NS: What are your priorities in life?
KS: Well my first priority is serving God and just taking the opportunity whenever I can to share his gospel and to show his love. I think that if you could some up Christianity it would be love. Not so much the religion aspect but just the relationship between you and God. I'm getting married in March, so my fiancée is obviously a huge priority in life. Also my family is important. It always has been. I think if you do those things and just obey Christ and just know that he is in control, and love your family and every one else then I think everything just takes care of itself.
NS: You've been very active in the AAO. Talk about what this means to you.
KS: It means a lot. I think that is the true essence of a Razorback. Whether we like it or not we are role models. It's amazing. Kids really look up to us. A football player, especially in the state of Arkansas, tells a kid something and they never forget it. We're right up there with the fireman's dog. It's a huge responsibility. We need to give back because we've been so blessed. God has blessed me so much in my time here. I realized that before I was being selfish and now I just try to do all that I can. The AAO gives some excellent opportunities to give back to the community. They have also helped me out spiritually. We go to schools and talk to kids about determination and we go to Lokomotion and play with the kids during Christmas. We take turkeys to families on Thanksgiving. We try to spread the word of God to save them in this short time on earth and also for eternity. It means so much to me. God has really opened up these doors for me and I hope to continue to do this for the rest of my life. I think anyone can do it. You don't have to be an athlete. It's such an important thing that God calls us to do. Love thy neighbor as thyself.
NS: What do you want from life?
KS: At the end of my life I would like for people to say that, "He loved Christ. He obeyed him." I want them to actually see Christ in me, through my words and actions. When it's all said and done I want to hear God say, "Good job my good and faithful servant."
NS: You're getting married this March to Leigh Ann Bull (Daughter of former Razorback and San Francisco 49ers QB, Scott Bull). How did you know she was the one?
KS: It's hard to explain. I knew she was the one after two weeks. I felt like I had known her forever. You've heard people say that people compliment each other, but it's very true with us. The things that I lack, she has. The things that she lacks, I have. She's always there for me, loving me. It really is true that you just know it. Everything reminds me of her. She's always behind me supporting me. It's also sharing the love for God.
NS: After you get married, are you guys planning on breeding a superhuman 6-4 275 pound quarterback?
KS: That would be cool. We've talked about it some. When we have kids I don't want them to have any pressure. If they want to play sports, its great. But if not, it's still great. I'm not gonna lie though. It would be awesome for my son to come back and be a Razorback.
NS: Kenny it has been a blessing to watch you the last for years. I look forward to watching the last game and hopefully seeing your wedding.
KS: Thanks a lot Nate.