From pain, perspective for this future Coug

RICHARD SANDERS knew where his son would rather be. The void of the playing field was palpable. The ripples of missing the last 12 of 14 games as a senior on one of the best high school football teams in the state and perhaps the finest ever at Eastside Catholic High hit Markell Sanders hard and washed over his family.

A hit to his shoulder two games into the fall was a crusher for sure.

Sanders' father felt the blow with similar directness. Essentially, this was the last taste of football for the Washington State verbal commit until he signs Feb. 1 to be a Cougar and joins them this summer.

"It kills me as a parent, because I know he's worked out hard," Richard Sanders said of Markell's lost senior season. "We have a little weight room here at the house, and he's always there. I've filmed every game he's played since he's been 9 years old.

"When he got hurt, I filmed the next game and then stopped."

Markell Sanders could have easily hung his head.

Instead, the Cougar-to-be provided a pick-me-up with his positive attitude. He's remained with team just as if he was still playing, attending every practice, meeting and game.

SANDERS, A 6-FOOT-1, 190-pound cornerback/wide receiver at EC, saw his doctor shortly after a 30-12 nonleague win over Eastlake on Sept. 7 and both agreed in order to preserve his bright future that he had played his final down in high school.

"We weren't sure at first, but [the doctor] said it was best to look out for my future, because I have a lot more years ahead of me," said Sanders, a first-team all-Metro pick in 2011. "It wouldn't be my last time playing, so it was better to focus on getting better as soon as possible so when I get to WSU I could be fresh and perfectly fine when I get there.

"I know it's my senior season, but it's like you have to give up something to have other things. I was willing to do that, even though it was hard."

Sanders didn't feel sorry for himself. He instead turned into an assistant coach, confidant and sideline leader.

"At first when I found out, it wasn't that bad and I accepted it," he said. "I was fine with it, because I was blessed with the opportunity to go play in college. Not a lot of my friends got the opportunity to get to do that.


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"I looked at it as a positive experience for me to mentor over the younger kids who filled in my spot."

It was difficult at times for the senior leader to not be part of the Crusaders' on-field march to a 13-0 record and tonight's Class 3A championship matchup with seemingly always-defending champion Bellevue (13-0). Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. at the Tacoma Dome and Sanders will be there again, fully dedicated to the team even after his season-ending injury.

"We knew that this year was going to be our best year, because we knew we had a talented senior class," Sanders said. "It turned out to be a great year. I tried not to let it get to me, because that's the kind of person I am."

SANDERS WAS POSITIVE ON THE outside, but the pain of not being able to contribute prompted the following from his Twitter account (Deshaun_521) on Nov. 17:

"Would do just about anything to have my senior season back," Sanders tweeted, during the early afternoon prior to the Crusaders' 65-34 victory over Marysville-Pilchuck in the 3A state quarterfinals.

Sanders, who said the Cougars have remained committed to him despite the injury, would love one more chance at Washington state's kingpin program in the finals.

Eastside Catholic seeks payback for a 42-0 loss to Bellevue in the first round of the 3A state playoffs in 2011.

"In my heart, I would love to go out and play one last time with my friends, who I probably won't ever play with again," said Sanders, who will meet at midfield before the game as a captain on Friday night. "It's kind of tough. I knew there wasn't a chance to come back. But I've joked with Coach T [former WSU running back and second-year EC head coach Jeremy Thielbahr] to this moment.

"I told him to put me in at quarterback and I'll take a knee. That's how bad I want to play."

It's clear Sanders has earned the respect of coaches, teammates and particularly his father during this time. That speaks volumes.

"I'm not there every minute, but the impact I've seen is the commitment he still has to this team," Richard Sanders said. "I can tell by just watching him engaging with the players on the sidelines. If a kid makes a touchdown, gets a penalty or makes a tackle, he seems to gravitate to them and them to him after the play. I see the commitment and intensity. Markell's always giving tips. I know he's making an impact that way."

As much as Sanders wants step between the lines, common sense is prevailing prior to Saturday's final.

"It's kind of like I need to let this one last game go, get ready for next year and protect myself from further injury and heal as fast as I can," he said.

Sanders' imprint on the Crusaders' run to the state-title game goes much deeper than his 10 total tackles and two interceptions in two games.

One of Markell's best friends on the team, fellow senior Luke Lattanzio, would like nothing more than to reward his fallen teammate.

"Luke came over to the house, and there was a conversation about what the state champion gets, and he said, ‘We're going to bring the ring home for Markell,'" Richard Sanders said. "To me that was touching. It means there is something going on there.

"That's just one kid saying that."

What a difference one man can make. Only his perspective has changed.

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