By Tim HippsJanuary 4, 2012
SAN ANTONIO (Jan. 4, 2012) -- Barry Sanders Jr. says he feels no pressure to live up to standards established by his father, the third-leading rusher in NFL history.
"People ask me the question all the time, if I'll ever be as good as him, and I don't think anybody will ever be as good as him -- just by the numbers he put up," Sanders said with a laugh. He spoke with reporters after Tuesday morning practice for the 2012 U.S. Army All-American Bowl. "So I just come out here and do what I can, and just work at it every day."
The younger Sanders will play for the West in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl for high school seniors Saturday at noon (CT) at the Alamodome. The game will be televised live by NBC.
With this event, young Sanders makes his debut on the national stage. He knows the numbers his father generated: an NCAA single-season record 2,628 rushing yards en route to winning the 1988 Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma State University, and an NFL career-high 2,053 rushing yards in 1997, his next-to-last season with the Detroit Lions.
Selected for the Pro Bowl in each of his 10 seasons, the senior Sanders' career rushing yards per game average of 99.8 yards ranks second in NFL history, behind only Jim Brown's 104.3 yards per game. He set dozens of records en route to 15,269 NFL career rushing yards, which trail only Emmitt Smith (18,355) and Walter Payton (16,726). Though he did not play the position until the middle of his last high school season, he is listed as the most elusive running back of all time by NFL.com.
Sanders Jr., however, is not exactly sure about his own numbers, compiled at Heritage Hall High School in Oklahoma City.
"Career-wise?" he asked. "I think I finished at 5,000 career yards. I can't remember how many touchdowns. I looked at the yardage, but I didn't calculate the carries. I averaged around nine yards a carry."
The Oklahoman reports that Sanders rushed for 1,343 yards and 20 touchdowns on 141 carries, which is an average of 9.52 yards per carry, during his senior season in 13 games for Class 3A Heritage Hall.
Standing 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighing 180 to 185 pounds, Sanders plans to keep growing.
"I hope so," he said. "I'll be 18 in April. I may have a couple more inches in me. My dad said he played best about 195. I don't want to get too heavy."
The elder Sanders topped out at 5-8.
Although the comparisons are inevitable, Sanders has enjoyed the challenge of being the son of a legendary running back.
"It's not hard at all," he said. "It brings about great opportunity and it's up to me to take advantage of it. And I think I've done a great job of it."
Just how good is this Barry Sanders Jr.?
"I don't know," he said. "I guess we'll find out on Saturday. I guess the playing will speak for itself," he said.
Sanders is one of 99 players hoping to make a name for himself in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
"We're all dedicated," Sanders said. "We got here for a reason. It shows when we're out here on the field. We're all focused and want to get better. We're looking forward to having good college careers."
Several players plan to announce their choice of colleges at the game. Sanders has narrowed his field to Stanford, Florida State, Alabama and his father's alma mater, Oklahoma State, not necessarily in that order.
"I'll decide at the game," he said. "I just hope to go out and make as few errors as possible as far as having my technique down on pass blocking, make sure I get the right guy and stay in front of him and keep the quarterback safe. When I get the ball, make sure I hit the right hole, make the right moves, and just do the little things right."
During the West's practice on Tuesday, Sanders received the biggest hit of the morning from Aziz Shittu, a 6-3, 275-pound defensive tackle from Buhach Colony High in Atwater, Calif.
"I was looking for the cutback and he was right there and made a good, clean hit," Sanders said. "Aziz is a good player. We've seen each other on a couple of visits. He's one of the more goofy guys. When I found out it was him, I was like, 'Aw, man, he's going to give me crap about that afterward.' But it was good. I was glad it was him and not somebody else because he is a good dude.
Sanders later dashed 10 yards around left end for a touchdown.
"I guess that made up for it," he said with a smile.
The All-American Bowl is considered a steppingstone for players hoping to reach the next level. Here, one can no longer count on domination through sheer talent.
"I've been thinking a lot before the snap to make sure I know exactly what I'm doing," Sanders said. "I'm thinking probably more than I usually do. Everything doesn't come as easy as it did playing with my high school team. Things are going fast. It's definitely an adjustment. It's going good, though. I'm having fun."
The players are keeping busy and having fun off the field during Army All-American Bowl week.
"The guys from the West and East, we get along great," Sanders said. "Last night, we went to the Hard Rock. We all joked, laughed and watched the OSU-Stanford game. We probably stayed up a little too late watching that because it ended late, but we're all looking forward to competing Saturday, playing with the guys from the West and playing against the guys from the East."
On Wednesday, the players will be paired with Soldier-heroes for an evening of challenging games. On Thursday, they will have a barbeque inside the Alamodome. On Friday, they will visit the Army Strong Zone, a sea of U.S. Army exhibits outside the Alamodome, and attend an awards banquet.
(Tim Hipps writes for IMCOM Public Affairs.)