Ariton Turns Out To Honor Sanders' Signing

Craig Sanders and Ariton Coach Rudy Free talk about his impact on the community and on the football field.

Ariton, Ala.--In front of almost the entire school at Ariton, Auburn commitment Craig Sanders made it official on Wednesday morning as he signed with the Tigers. An early graduate from Ariton, Wednesday was his last official day as a high school student and Sanders said that made the day even more emotional for him.

"It's so memorable," Sanders said. "I love Ariton. I had to fight everything I could not to cry up there. It's a great day. It hasn't hit me yet, but it will hit me in a week or two.

"We have such a great community of people," he added. "They just love me and care for me. It's great to grow up in a place like Ariton."

Signing in front of over 100 friends, family, classmates, and younger kids wanting to grow up to be him one day, Sanders will leave all that behind on Wednesday and prepare to move to Auburn in early January. Expected to room with fellow early signee Jessel Curry, Sanders said getting a chance to enroll early and go through spring practice is a blessing for him.

"It's going to jumpstart my career," Sanders said. "I feel like I'll be ahead in the game when fall rolls around. I'm just really excited about it."

One of the biggest questions surrounding Sanders is the fact that he plays in the smallest classification in Alabama. Despite the fact that many players over the years have made the jump with success, it's still something people bring up to question him. Sanders said as far as he's concerned it's a non-issue.

"It hasn't bothered me," Sanders said. "I can do all things through Christ. I'm not scared. I'll be good."

Sanders had a chance to experience life outside 1A football last weekend when he took part in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic in Mobile. While some players would be overwhelmed with the jump, Sanders said it was a welcome change for him.

"The all star game was easier for me because in a 1A game I'm out there running around for four quarters," Sanders said. "In the all star game I got to come to the sidelines. It was crazy. I didn't know what to do. I was on the sidelines jumping around ready to go. It just felt weird standing on the sidelines."

In his first season as Ariton's coach, it didn't take long for Rudy Free to see what kind of talent he had to work with in Sanders. Free told a story of showing up at the weight room at 6:30 a.m. on his first day and Sanders was already there working out. It's obvious he made a big impact on his coach in just one season for the Purple Cats.

"He's a great kid off the field," Free said. "When I first got here and first met him he was real down to earth. A lot of kids getting this type of publicity get the big head, but he never had that. We've got little boys and they love him to death. He's just an overall good kid. He does a good job in the classroom and off the field. He represents his family, his school and his community very well."

At 6-4, 235 with 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash, Sanders was Mr. Everything for Ariton while in high school as he rushed for over 1,000 yards in his last three years including 1,200 yards as a senior. Adding over 100 tackles on defense, Free said Sanders was just a model player for him.

"He was the biggest guy we had on the team and the fastest," Free said. "It's just weird to see the biggest guy running the ball and playing all the skill positions, but it's the kind of talent he has. He's going to bring a lot of good things to Auburn."

Playing everywhere for the Purple Cats, Sanders punted and also returned some kicks and rarely got any time off. Free said being able to focus on defense should make him an impact player for Auburn sooner rather than later.

"He's got unlimited potential especially going up there and being able to focus on one position," Free said. "It's going to help him a lot. It's tough for guys to play every play. With him going up in January he'll get stronger and get some extra size. That should really help him."

Sanders becomes the first SEC signee for Ariton High School since Lee Jolly signed with Alabama in 1983. Early on it appeared Sanders would follow suit as he committed to Alabama, but in September he changed his mind to Auburn because of his relationship with the coaching staff and Gene Chizik. He said since that time he's been all Auburn and on Wednesday he made it official.

"That was it," Sanders said when he changed his mind to Auburn. "That was the final one. I haven't looked back."

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