Sanks trying to 'seize the moment' in senior year

ATHENS, Ga. —<b> Jasper Sanks</b>' first three seasons at Georgia have provided a wild, unpredictable ride.<br><br> From tailback to fullback and back to tailback, from rushing leader to No. 3 on the depth chart, from much-heralded prospect to much-criticized and sometimes forgotten senior, Sanks managed a smile this week when he said "I've pretty much seen it all.''

The ride is not over, and there may be more sharp turns ahead.

Only a week ago, Sanks was no better than No. 3 on the depth chart at tailback, still burdened by the extra weight he brought to preseason drills — and the resulting loss in confidence from Coach Mark Richt.

If Georgia had played a game this week, however, Sanks might have been the starter. Musa Smith has been slowed by a hip-flexor injury and Kenny Bailey has a shoulder injury, but there may be more to Sanks' comeback story than the minor injuries suffered by others at his position.

Richt and running backs coach Tony Pierce had good words all week about Sanks, who took advantage of his increased practice exposure to remind the coaches that he is the most physical and punishing runner of Georgia's tailbacks.

Smith is expected to return from his injury to start in next Saturday's 6:30 p.m. home game against Arkansas, but Sanks may be ready to make the most of his senior season.

Said Sanks: "Eventually, you get old and mature.''

Sanks was called anything but mature when he reported this summer weighing close to 250 pounds — at least 15 pounds heavier than expected. This followed an embarrassing arrest at a Columbus hotel last December, leaving Sanks with a misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana.

With Sanks insisting he was only in the wrong place at the wrong time, the charges were dropped. Even so, considering that Sanks spent most of his 2000 season in Coach Jim Donnan's bad graces and then made a poor first impression with Richt, it seemed probable that he would spend his senior season in the shadows.

Instead, Sanks is back in the tailback picture. He ran hard when given an opportunity against South Carolina, gaining 27 yards on six carries, including a long run of 14 yards, and then caught Richt's attention by running over a defensive back to score in a goal-line drill early this week.

"I like what Jasper did,'' Richt said Monday. "He picked up the blitz well and had a fine goal-line run. He ran over a defender to get in.''

Added Pierce: "I've been saying all along he's right there. I felt all along we had three backs if any of them went down.

"He ran the ball real hard (against South Carolina). He was physical. We knew what he could do. We know he's right there to really pound the ball. ''

On Georgia's opening possession of the second half against South Carolina, Sanks had runs of 14, 5, 2 and 5 yards. When he jogged to the sideline after his last run, Sanks was greeted by a surprisingly loud ovation from Georgia fans, who seemed to be saying "Welcome back.''

Said Sanks: "I heard that. It was pretty obvious. I came out and heard a big roar. It was a good feeling, knowing that a lot of people are still supporting me, no matter what you are going through in the rough times.''

When Georgia returns to practice Monday, Sanks might open with the No. 1 offense if Smith is not yet full speed.

"I really don't even think about that,'' Sanks said. "The main thing is I've been going out and working hard and trying to seize the moment because it is competitive. We don't know who is going to go down.''

Sanks appeared to be emerging as a top back as a sophomore in 1999 when he rushed for 896 yards, but the season was marred by fumbles against Florida and Georgia Tech. He became the first Georgia back since Garrison Hearst in 1992 to post three straight 100-yard games, but he fell back to 352 yards rushing last season as Donnan's staff juggled Smith, Sanks, Bruce Thornton, Brett Millican and others at the position.

Sanks missed most of last spring with a right knee sprain, but now says "I feel good.''

Let the ride continue.

"It's been all uphill so far, but one day it's all going to be downhill,'' he said. "That's just the way I think. I thank God for my family and everybody back home who's on my side. No matter what, I'm going to always keep faith.''

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