It is said in sports that the hardest an athlete will work is when he is recovering from an injury or if he knows that his spot in the lineup or on the team is not guaranteed.
In his first two years at Delbarton, Andrew Sanders had shown the explosiveness, speed and potential that had him penciled in as the starting running back this fall.
Surgery on his left shoulder seemed likely to derail those plans. Sanders missed offseason workouts and was sidelined for all of preseason as he went through rehab.
But Sanders worked his way into the opening day starting lineup, and he hasn’t looked back.
Sanders will again be looking to lead the Green Wave ground game against Red Bank Catholic in the Non-Public Group III final at MetLife Stadium on Sunday night.
Despite coming off an injury, Sanders rushed for 1,013 yards, an average of 6.1 yards per carry. Sanders had five games more than 100 yards, while rushing for eight touchdowns and catching two more out of the backfield.
“He’s been great all year,” Delbarton coach Brian Bowers said. “Coming off of the injury he had where he had major surgery, to get him in game one was a really great bonus. He kind of got thrown into the fire because he missed all of the summer workouts and the preseason, but he came in and did a great job. He has competed all year so we are really pleased with his performance.”
Sanders spent his first two years at Delbarton learning from Arancio and Jamie White, rushing for 628 yards and five touchdowns last fall. He noticed the differences in running styles of his former teammates, and has emulated their strengths
“Jamie was a really elusive runner, probably the best runner to ever come through here, while Robbie was patient in following the blockers and waiting for the holes to develop,” Sanders said. “I learned a lot from both of them.”
Last year, Sanders’ speed and quickness enabled him to get outside, turn the corner and get upfield on defenses. The junior has lost none of his speed from last year, but with no fear of re-injuring his shoulder, he has looked to run inside more.
“This year I am not afraid of getting hit, which I think I was last year,” Sanders said. “I’m willing to lower the shoulder and run between the tackles. With the way our offensive line has played, I should be able to do both.”
Bowers added, “He’s got an instinct to run the ball. To know when to cut takes time, but he understands our zone offense, and that is where he really has improved himself this year. It is not just outrunning people, it is understanding our blocking schemes, and making sure that you are hitting the right hole at the right time.”
Speed is still the name of the game for Sanders, who also plays baseball for Delbarton. Last year Sanders stole 25 bases, including four in a game against West Morris, and three in one inning, including home.
His role in both sports is to get from point A to point B as fast as possible.
“You can’t be afraid. You just have to go all out,” Sanders said. “Both sports are instinctive. In baseball, as soon as the pitcher lifts his leg, you have to go. You lower your head and try to get there as fast as you can. In football, it is the same thing. You follow your blockers and try to hit the holes as fast as you can.”
Sanders was banged up in the season finale against Poly Prep, and used more as a decoy against St. John Vianney with teammate Andrew Papantonis as the featured back. Bowers is expecting a big game from Sanders on Sunday.
“For us to win this game, Andrew needs to have a great game,” Bowers said. “We always want to put him in a position to succeed, and in our I-offense, he’s got to be a prominent guy for us. We are excited to get him going this weekend.”
What: NJSIAA Non-Public Group III final
Who: Delbarton vs. Red Bank Catholic
When: Sunday, 7 p.m.
Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford