Freshman running back Barry Sanders might be the son of the greatest running back in NFL history, but Cardinal running backs coach Mike Sanford quickly learned that Sanders didn't want to be treated differently than any other high school prospect.
Sanford, who was Sanders' primary recruiter, played a large role in luring the four-star running back to The Farm.
"I tried my best to make (Sanders' recruitment) just like any other kid," Sanford said. "And I think that's what he responded to. Just treating him like a normal kid. And I was able to kind of assess that he liked that, just to be normal. He embraces the fact that his father is the greatest running back of all time, he embraces that, he loves his dad. His dad's really involved and is a great role model for him, but at the same time when you get around his high school environment at Heritage Hall, and I was able to see him and how he interacted with his teammates, you can tell he likes to be one of the guys. And it's absolutely no different here. That characteristic is very similar to that of how Andrew was here."
Sanders has a long way to go to approach the on-field impact Luck made on The Farm, but Sanford said that the early returns are encouraging.
"He's looked really good," Sanford said. "I'm excited for what he can do. He's going to continue a great line of running backs here, and really by line I mean the fact that we have a line right now of running backs. He fits in really well with that group. The thing that I've been most impressed by him is just how serious he is about it. He really takes it like it's a job. He's taking tremendous notes in meetings and of course he's overwhelmed right now, but (yesterday) was a great day. He was getting all of his check downs right. And we ask the running backs to do a lot, so it was good to see that.
"The thing that I like that he naturally does is he's patient behind the line of scrimmage. He's not a herky-jerky runner. He's very patient. He lets his stuff develop in front of him, and his natural patience is really encouraging."
Whether Sanders puts those skills on display this season is still unknown. The number of veteran talented running backs on Stanford's roster might make a redshirt season the best option for Sanders.
"I think it's to be determined," Sanford said. "Just like some of our other running backs including Remound Wright, Jackson Cummings, obviously Anthony Wilkerson is going to have a huge role, we're trying to figure which of those guys are going to be involved. They're doing some great things. This competition is extremely tight and Barry is behind significantly mentally, as he should be, but he's making up ground by taking it really seriously."
The competition for playing time is wide open behind Stepfan Taylor, who will be Stanford's unquestioned workhorse in the backfield, and Wilkerson.
"Wilkerson's going to have a role, there's no question about that," Sanford said. "He's such a capable body and we've been trying to get his legs back underneath him. He's done a really good job just coming off of the offseason and he's had a really good camp so far. And then Remound Wright is really coming along. He's an explosive back. We like him a lot. He's another kid that takes it really seriously. And then Ricky Seale had a good day (yesterday). We know he's probably one of our more instinctive runners that we have in our backfield out of the group, but he's becoming a good pass protector, which is what we need to see him do more consistently. And then Jackson Cummings who had a great spring game, that's another guy."
One player Sanford didn't mention is redshirt freshman Kelsey Young, who has seen reps at both receiver and running back during his time on The Farm. According to Sanford, the Stanford coaches are working to carve out a role for Young on offense that goes beyond the bounds of a tradition running back or wide receiver role.
"Kelsey Young I think is going to play the Kelsey Young position," Sanford said. "Instead of 'RB' or 'QB' it's going to be 'KY'. The thing that's great is that he was trained as a running back for a year, so he does some of that stuff really well and he's been training as a receiver in the spring, everyone saw that at the spring game, so he's got some versatility. And we always have something up our sleeve."
Sanford not surprised about Gaffney's early departure
While Stanford head coach David Shaw admitted to feeling some degree of surprise about the departure of Tyler Gaffney to the professional baseball ranks, Sanford chalked up Gaffney's departure to the Southern California native taking advantage of an opportunity.
"He was great," Sanford said. "He called me before it hit anywhere and I was really honored that he did that and wanted to go about doing it the right way. We love Gaff. We love him now, we loved him before. He was such a big part of this football program and he's representing our football program out there in the Pirates organization. I wasn't surprised because I think he was a kid who saw an opportunity in the organization there and seized the opportunity and he's taking great advantage of it right now."
Recruiting coordinator a natural progression
It didn't take long for Sanford to make a mark on Stanford's recruiting efforts after he was hired by David Shaw in early 2011. Sanford quickly emerged as one of the Cardinal's strongest recruiters, making key contributions in a number of class of 2012 recruitments - his name was among the first mentioned by a large percentage of the recruits we interviewed. So when Brian Polian left for Texas A&M earlier this year, Sanford was a logical choice to take over the recruiting coordinator position. So far, he's enjoyed the additional responsibilities.
"I love having that awesome responsibility," Sanford said. "Of course with a great opportunity like that comes great responsibility, and with the tradition that we've established recently of tremendous recruiting classes, of course we as a staff feel a great burden and I as the quote-unquote recruiting coordinator feel a great burden to continue that legacy. In terms of what actually the change is, it's doing more logistical things with kind of strategizing with who's recruiting what area, organizing who's out on the road on certain days, and I really like that kind of stuff. It's stuff that I enjoy doing and of course communicating with coaches and getting input on where we should be in terms of our numbers and all that. So it's been a really good responsibility.
"And of course with this staff, and I truly believe we have the best recruiting staff in America, and that's solidified even with the additions of Coach Alamar and Coach Kotulski. And the reason I feel like we have the best recruiting staff in America is because we have a bunch of guys who have great integrity. They're good to be around. They're good people, and we're all led by the best recruiting head coach in the country because he personifies truth, parents believe his word because it is his word. The players really respond to him."