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Kendall Sanders impresses on defense

1/7/2012

SAN ANTONIO -- Call Kendall Sanders a kicker if you want.

OK, maybe not a kicker.

But call him anything else and you'll get his nod of approval. He doesn't care where he lines up. He just wants to play.

The four-star prospect from Athens (Texas) is committed to the Longhorns as a wide receiver. But given the defensive back skills he showcased at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Saturday, it shouldn't come as a surprise if he ultimately ends up on that side of the ball in Austin.

Sanders, who is rated as the No. 10 cornerback in the country, intercepted two passes to help the West to a 24-12 victory over the East at the Alamodome.

"I played real good," said Sanders, who sat front and center on the stage flashing "Hook'em Horns" during the West's post-game celebration. "Obviously I just had fun. I wasn't worried about all the other stuff. That's what allowed me to play well today."

Both of Sanders' interceptions came off of Anthony Alford (Petal, Miss./Petal), who committed to Southern Mississippi during the game.

His second interception, which came late in the second half, was a thing of beauty. Alford rolled out to his right and tried to thread the ball downfield to a receiver, but safety Shaq Thompson (Sacramento, Calif./Grant) tipped the ball and Sanders was able to haul it in while getting a foot down in bounds.

"Through my mind I was just thinking, 'Yes, he is going to throw the under route,' because I was on the over route and had already broke," Sanders said. "Then I see my homeboy Shaq Thompson tip it. I saw the ball in the air and, again, with the knowledge of being a receiver, I got both hands on the ball and caught it."

A defensive MVP was not given in the game, but if it had it would have gone to either Thompson or Sanders. Most expected for Thompson to have the type of impact he had on the defensive end, but Sanders' performance was even a surprise to himself.

"I didn't expect this at all," Sanders said. "I thought I would just be out there covering receivers. I didn't think I was going to get two picks. I just read the routes and stayed in my right coverage, and was where I needed to be."

Sanders' offensive skills weren't put on display on Saturday, but they were this season in more ways than one. Perhaps no game better represented his abilities than when he traveled to a game at Bullard (Texas) on Oct. 14 not expecting to play with a 102-degree fever.

"I was throwing up all week," said Sanders, who set a school record with 46 career touchdowns. "The doctor had released me to play when I broke my fever. So when I broke my fever around halftime I asked coach if he brought my stuff. He said yes, so I suited up."

In the final two quarters, Sanders rushed for over 230 yards and two touchdowns to help Athens erase a 14-14 tie and win 42-21.

Now, Sanders will have to continuously answer questions as to which side of the ball he would rather play. When he first arrived in San Antonio on Jan. 1, he said wide receiver.

"I would prefer to play receiver, but it really doesn't matter that much now," said Sanders, who originally committed to Oklahoma State before switching his pledge to Texas on Dec. 4. "I just want to go out there and compete with the best. If they want me on defense, then I will line up on defense."

He took a more neutral stance after the game.

"I'll put it like this: If [Texas defensive backs coach Duane] Akina wants me on defense I'll play defense."

After his performance on Saturday, he might not have a choice.

William Wilkerson covers University of Texas football and recruiting for HornsNation.