The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

November 18, 2010

Sanders on brink of record

MORGANTOWN — As much as we would like to believe that our destinies are in our own hands to control, the world as it plays out tell us differently.

Life is never a super highway to the top, instead being potholed and booby-trapped, filled with detours and enough road closed signs to make you wonder why you ever started the journey in the first place.

Success has as much to do with how you navigate those twists and turns, how fast you can change that flat or find a gas station when you life is on “Empty,” as with anything you do.

Jock Sanders understands this. As the West Virginia University slot back readies himself for Saturday’s noon engagement in Louisville, he does so knowing that he can make history, standing on the brink of becoming the Mountaineers’ all-time leading receiver.

It didn’t start out that way, not at all. He didn’t even know who David Sauders was or that the tall, sure-handed receiver’s 191 catches from 1995-98 were the gold standard at WVU.

Certainly, considering he had come out of St. Petersburg, Fla., a running back, he could not have guessed that he would enter the 10th game of his senior season needing just two catches to tie, three to break that record while, at the same time, extending a personal streak of games with a reception to 39.

“I came in and didn’t know what I was going to be,” he said.

It was Rich Rodriguez who recruited him to Morgantown, seeing the opportunity to have a player with explosive offensive skills, one of the kinds of players that fit so well into his system. Rodriguez knew Sanders could run and believed he could catch and, at that moment, saw his own future as being the WVU coach for as long as he lived.

Like Sanders, Rodriguez never saw that turn in the road that was awaiting him coming.

“My freshman year me and Noel were going at it to see who would play behind Steve Slaton,” Sanders recalled the other night, Noel being Noel Devine, the star running back out of Fort Myers, Fla. “He got the job that year, but we still shared carries.”

It might have stayed that way, too, had Rodriguez stayed, but there was that loss to Pitt, a rapid courtship with Michigan and a very messy divorce as Rodriguez walked away.

Bill Stewart was named head coach, and Devine would be his running back.

“Next year there was a new coaching staff and it was like they were saying ‘There’s no point for you to wait. We’ll get you on the field now.’ They moved me to the slot. I made the best of my opportunity.”

Indeed he did, benefitting beyond even his own imagination from the competition with Devine, who would become his best friend.

“That gave me an extra push, knowing it was a guy exactly like me,” he said. “It’s crazy, knowing that you have to come every day to practice with all you got. That’s what made me have that burning fire and energy to come out and compete.”

Turned out he was a natural slot receiver, capable of catching possession passes, breaking them on occasion once he had the ball in his hands and being a weapon on reverses.

As a freshman he caught only 12 passes, moved it up 53 his sophomore season and 72 last year, possessing 46 this season with three regular-season games and a bowl game left to play.

There was some talk a year ago that he and Devine would jump from West Virginia after their junior years and head to the NFL, but both opted to use up their eligibility in college, to refine their games and maybe even improve their draft positions.

It probably has worked for Sanders, but Devine has had a rough senior season that has included some injuries, again a sign about those curves you have to navigate on the road to success.

Sanders is certain that he was led down the correct fork in the road, but even there you wonder if there isn’t some thinking about what might have been had Devine not be around to force him to wide receiver.

“I think about it a little … and I don’t,” Sanders admitted. “I’m blessed and I’m happy to be in the situation I’m in. I don’t take nothing back.”

He understands that there’s another of those forks in the road ahead, that he has only four more college games before he learns if he is of NFL timber.

“It’s scary, just looking and knowing the real world is coming up at the next level. It has you so scared. You have to seize the opportunity and enjoy it,” he said.

Just as he is doing now, heading into this Louisville game.

“How many catches do I need for the record?” he asked.

Informed two to tie, three to break, he thought for a moment, then said:

“I’ll make sure to tell my coaches, make sure the third one is a touchdown.”

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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