It's no secret that while Barry J. Sanders spent a lot of time on the Oklahoma State campus while growing up in Oklahoma City and as a recruiting prospect at Heritage Hall in high school, he told us in an interview Friday that as he figured out that his football career at Stanford wasn't working out to his satisfaction and he was looking to make a change to play out his senior season after he graduated that he analyzed the situation at Oklahoma State. He examined it not as a fan but as a prospective student-athlete looking for an opportunity.
"As it happened and the weeks went on I keep up with a lot of Oklahoma State athletics (football) and I'm still a huge fan and I see what they are doing, what their strengths and weaknesses are," Sanders explained on his decision to transfer and join the Pokes' program. "By the end of the season that was kind of my top pick because of what I saw in the regular season and even the postseason. It was just good to find a place where I can compete for a starting job, and I'll be excited to get there in June."
Sanders is taking his opportunity very serious. As I stated in the story the other day, he gives off a strong impression that he wants to make a serious mark on the program. He talks like he wants to be the second Sanders to really stand out at running back and he isn't shying away from the expectations, treating them realistically, but embracing them all at the same time.
He is also not just messing around his last semester on "The Farm" at Stanford. Our interview on Friday had to be worked around a lifting session. While he no longer works out with the Cardinal football team, he has chosen a very hungry and dedicated group to push him and he push back in the weight room and on the field.
"Right now I've just been with some of the guys that are training for the (NFL) Combine and Pro Day, mostly Pro Day guys," Sanders said of a working with a group that is trying to make football their job. Combine and Pro Day participants can be very hard workers. "I actually have been in contact with coach (Rob) Glass, and that is the spring I would like to see what he would like to see me do in preparation. I am still being very active throughout each week and stay strong and stay fast. I feel like I have done a good job so far, but there is a lot of room for improvement and I'm going to kep trying to do better."
Where does Sanders fit in at running back for Oklahoma State? It would be nice if he was going to be there for the spring, but that can't happen. That is the time for Chris Carson, Rennie Childs, Raymond Taylor and Jeff Carr to establish themselves and their potential for holding down a significant place on the running back depth chart.
Sanders averaged 6.2 yards per carry on 51 carries last season in backing up Christian McCaffrey. He also scored four touchdowns. Now, there is no way to compare Sanders' playing time with the time and situations that Carson, Childs, Taylor and Carr were used last season, but only Taylor, with a 6.4 yards per carry average on 47 carries, comes anywhere close to Sanders. Taylor also scored four touchdowns.
Carson with 131 carries averaged 4.1 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns. Childs with 72 carries averaged 4.0 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns. Carr carried 36 times and averaged 3.9 yards a carry and ran for one touchdown, but did catch two touchdowns passes.
Sanders is plenty big for the role at 5-10, 198 pounds and he has speed, moves, and experience. On paper he elevates right now to the starting position. Carson is in the best place to defend the current running backs and claim the starting role. His first season was not stellar but he is a different kind of runner than Sanders as he is straight on downhill runner at a powerful 6-2, 205 pounds.
Taylor is very similar to Sanders in that he can run and jump around some. Their size is similar at 5-8 and 195 pounds. Childs is bigger, powerful at 5-10, 205 pounds but his consistency has been seriously missing. You just never seem to know what you are going to get. Carr is something I can't wait to see in spring football because his offseason could make a huge diference for him. He needs more strength to break tackles and run more with his pads. If he gets that added strength and keeps his speed and elusiveness then he could be something special and could really compete with Sanders. More likely, he learns in the one year from Sanders and is a year from becoming the mainstay at the position.
The top spot on the running back depth chart will not be handed to Sanders or anybody. The luxury now is Sanders comes in and really kicks up even more competition. I think all the participants will get into it and loads of competition usually leads to massive improvement.
Just remember, Barry J. Sanders is hungry, experienced, confident and determined to play the position and stand out just as his father did. I see his motivation being high, his abilities being really stout, and that combination could be very hard to overcome. It is the Big 12 and Mike Gundy is head coach and that means two to three backs will get their chance to play. The starter, if he performs well, will get the bulk of the carries. That is what Barry J. Sanders is looking for. It's what all the running backs want.
"I wouldn't change anything that has happened. I believe everything happens for a reason and it's amazing that things worked out the way they did," Sanders said of his journey into being a senior transfer. "I didn't think in a million years it would come down to this but it did. You have to take it step by step."
All of the running backs need to take it that way and remember Justice Hill and L.D. Brown report this summer as well and freshmen have dreams of playing too. Competition makes everybody better.