Stopping the Long Ball

Freshman free safety Robert Sands has one thing on his mind when he's in the mix of a football game – stop the opposing offense from making any long completions.

The true freshman has done a good job with that task this year. While yielding 134 completions in 238 attempts, WVU has held foes to a long completion of 38 yards – an indication that opponents aren't hitting big pass plays with any regularity. At least some of the credit for that achievement has to go to Sands.

"That is my first focus. I don't want to get beat deep. I'm still young. I don't want to be too over aggressive and try to come down and make the tackle. I just try to read my keys and make a play on the ball," Sands noted.

Sands' focus has been beneficial to the Mountaineer defense. The defense has continued to improve since the beginning of the season, but isn't resting on its laurels.

"We swarm to the ball a lot better," he pointed out. "There's nothing else that we could improve on except the third down stops. Everything else we're doing pretty well. We need some more picks in secondary though, because the linebackers are getting all the picks." Ellis Lankster and Nate Sowers have the only two interceptions credited to the five defensive backs this year, while linebackers have four.

Sands has been seeing significant playing time on defense while sharing the duties at the free safety position with red-shirt freshman Eain Smith. Sands moved into he starting lineup early in the season, and both he and Smith have been undergoing some intense on the job training. The two underclassmen have been working together to master the speed of college ball.

"When I'm on the field and I come to the sidelines, Eain tells me what (opponents) are trying to do against me, and when he comes off the field I tell him some things. We are constantly feeding off of each other and helping each other out at all times," Sands said. "I haven't made the complete transition from high school yet. Speed wise, I am still a little bit behind. Also, the game is not as slow to me as it was in high school. Once I get a little older and a little more familiar with the speed then everything should slow down for me again and I'll be fine."

Playing as a freshman could prove to be stressful for most people, but Sands is used to being put under pressure.

"I'm used to the situation. I've been starting since I was a kid. I've never been a backup in anything. I'm pretty used to being in a (stressful) situation. It's no big deal," he observed.

The Opa-Locke, Fla. Native was recruited by schools like LSU and Florida. During his recruitment at Florida, he was introduced to Coach Doc Holliday. When Coach Holliday made the move to West Virginia, Sands decided to follow. One of the attributes that Holliday and other recruiters immediately latched on to was Sands' ranginess. The 6'6" 205-pound free safety possesses a significant height difference than most other players at the position.

"(My height) is a disadvantage and an advantage," he explained. "It's half and half. The disadvantage is that it's hard for me to stay low so that I can get into my breaks easier. One of the advantages is being able to see up into the defense. It's both. It's 50/50," Sands said.

Sands' experience during his first year with the Mountaineer's will do nothing but help his future career as safety. Between the continuous improvement of the defense and Sand's continuing adjustments to college ball, he will likely be a force on the field for the Mountaineers in years to come.


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