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Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Barry Sanders will have one up on dad

By Damon Sayles
ESPN Recruiting Nation

SAN ANTONIO -- U.S. Army All-American Barry Sanders was given the rock-star treatment Tuesday afternoon. Cameras followed him everywhere he went. He nearly missed his team's designated lunch time dealing with media representatives asking question after question ranging from recruiting to his very famous football father.

In many cases, the four-star running back from Heritage Hall School (Oklahoma City, Okla.) is much like his Hall of Fame father with the same first name. He's not a huge fan of being swarmed constantly by the media, but when the time comes, he's there to answer every question.

Especially when those questions are about football.

Barry Sanders
Barry Sanders is going to decide between Florida State, Alabama, Stanford and Oklahoma State.

For the next few days, as Saturday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl inches closer, Sanders will accept the responsibility of answering questions that have been seemingly repetitive for years. What school are you going to? What are some similarities between you and your father's games? What's it like being the son of a Hall of Famer?

"Hey ... it is what it is," Sanders said with a big smile.

Playing with a purpose

For someone as even-keeled as Sanders, there's no such thing as pressure. There's only expectation.

Sanders will play for the West team on Saturday, and he has been taking snaps with the first team. The West features three other four-star running backs in Alabama commit T.J. Yeldon (No. 91 in the ESPNU 150) Texas A&M commit Trey Williams (No. 119) and Oregon commit Byron Marshall (No. 129).

Sanders, No. 78 in the ESPNU 150 and considered the sixth-best running back in the country, looks at his backfield mates and shakes his head at the talent. Then he takes a breath at simply being put in the same category.

"It feels great being around those guys," Sanders said. "I'm getting a good feel for everyone and can't wait to play with them on Saturday. There's a lot of talent on our team, but like any other guy here, I want to show I can compete against the best guys in my age group."

Following Dad's footsteps

The common misconception with Sanders is that he is a "junior." Barry's middle name is James, while his father's middle name is David. At 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, Sanders is taller than his father by two inches. His father, however, played professionally at 203 pounds.

The younger Sanders has similar elusiveness -- though he's not quite as polished as his father yet -- and his field vision sets him apart from many running backs. The elder Sanders finished his college career at Oklahoma State with nearly 3,800 rushing yards and 52 touchdowns, 42 of those coming in his junior year in 1988, his final season in a Cowboys jersey.

Barry D. Sanders went on to play 10 seasons with the Detroit Lions and was an all-pro selection each year. He eventually was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004.

These are the goals Barry J. Sanders chase as he prepares for college football, but one thing he has on his father is the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. The first game took place Dec. 30, 2000 -- a year after the elder Sanders retired from the NFL. The biggest high school all-star game Barry D. Sanders participated in was the Kansas Shrine Bowl in 1986, and he is considered the game's most celebrated player.

"It wasn't a national game," Barry J. Sanders said of his father's Shrine Bowl participation, "but I heard no one could touch him. I want to be able to say I did things like that at this game."

Trendsetting at Heritage Hall

Sanders may be chasing Dad, but at Heritage Hall, he's a trendsetter. Sanders and Heritage Hall teammate Sterling Shepard, a four-star receiver headed to Oklahoma, share the honor of being the school's first two players to participate in a national all-star game. Shepard will compete Thursday at the Under Armour All-America Game in Florida.

That's a pretty impressive accolade considering Heritage Hall once had Patriots receiver Wes Welker in uniform. Welker was the Oklahoma Player of the Year according to USA Today in 1999, and he played in the 2000 Oil Bowl, a regional all-star game pitting Oklahoma all-stars against Texas all-stars. Like Barry D. Sanders, Welker was out of high school when the Army All-American Bowl began.

"I think it says a lot for it to be the first time this has ever been done at our school," Sanders said of his and Shepard's honors. "For us to play in two different All-American games, and for us to be on same team [at Heritage Hall], that's something special.

"I know a lot of the younger guys at school look up to the older guys. Hopefully, they'll be able to make their dreams come true like we were able to."

Verbally committed to?

While Sanders prepares to set history as the first Army All-American from Heritage Hall, he also is preparing to announce his college plans. Sanders has had Florida State, Alabama, Stanford and Oklahoma State as his top four schools for months. He will choose the school for him on Saturday during the game.

Oklahoma State may be the most familiar to Sanders, as it's his father's alma mater. He said the facilities there are "probably some of the best I've seen," and he's a fan of the people there. Sanders added that the adjustment period may be the quickest, as Stillwater, Okla., isn't too far from Oklahoma City.

The way Stanford runs the ball intrigues Sanders because he's a back who likes to get multiple touches. He said Stanford has the ability to be a power running team for years to come. As for Florida State, Sanders is a fan of the coaching staff, as well as the recent recruiting classes.

Many feel Alabama is something of a wild card. Sanders said the program speaks for itself as an SEC power and a threat to win the national title every season. After watching running backs Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson shine, he knows he can be successful with the help of a highly talented offensive line.

As for which school is considered a front-runner ...

"That's for me to know and you guys to find out," he told many reporters, finishing the sentence exhausted from interviews but still wearing his trademark smile.

Damon Sayles covers recruiting in the Midlands for ESPN Recruiting. He can be reached at dsaylesespn@gmail.com.