Saturday November 20, 2010Terron Sanders - Bleeding Orange and Blue
By Corey Sobers, UF Communications
It is assumed by many that for a large young man, playing the sport of football would be a natural fit. After all, it is a game of violent collisions and anybody who excels in SEC Country will quickly garner attention. University of Florida redshirt senior defensive tackle Terron Sanders currently stands at 6-1, 309 pounds and has always stood out among his peers. However, when he was growing up, he spent much of his free time doing yardwork and at one point, even began his own summer lawn-mowing company.
“I enjoyed cutting grass, trimming trees and just being outside in the sun,” Sanders stated. “I had been around football my whole life but my first year of actual organized football was in high school because I was always too big. I grew up through the Pop Warner program—the East Manatee Bulldogs back at home—and I was always too big so I was my father’s waterboy.”
When he began playing football at Bradenton’s Southeast High School, Sanders was on the defensive line his first year and added left tackle to his defensive duties in his sophomore season before transitioning to left guard for his junior and senior campaigns. Becoming a Florida Gator was one of his greatest ambitions and he made no secret of that from the time he was young.
“I’ve been a Gator fan my whole life,” Sanders revealed. “My dad tells me that I walked around saying I wanted to be a Gator ever since I was old enough to pick up a football. I bleed orange and blue. My high school colors were orange and blue even though we were the Seminoles. As soon as Florida offered a scholarship, I jumped all over it. I committed at the end of my junior year and did not take any more visits.”
While the redshirt senior was realizing his dream of being a Gator, he immediately faced challenges beginning with a knee injury before he ever set foot on the practice field. He tore the medial meniscus in his left knee during the second game of his senior season at Southeast and missed the remainder of the season after having his leg immobilized for eight weeks as part of a non-weight bearing recovery.
When Sanders arrived in Gainesville and was completing his physical testing, he learned that he had torn his medial meniscus again along with the lateral meniscus and had to have another surgery that summer of 2006. Four weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery, Sanders suffered a concussion in his first week of practice. That season became a redshirt season and though most would have chalked it up to injuries and youth, head coach Urban Meyer did not see it that way.
“When I got up here, I let the college atmosphere overtake my goals,” Sanders confessed. “I lost sight of what I came here for. Coach Meyer called my family and I in one day and we had a heart-to-heart. He told me where I sat and it was not looking good.”
In the spring of 2007, Sanders tore the meniscus in his right knee. He recovered from that setback and was part of the defensive line rotation in the Gators’ first six games. Right when an opportunity arose as a result of starter Javier Estopinan getting injured in the Florida-Georgia game, Sanders suffered a high ankle sprain which cost him the rest of his redshirt freshman season. After the Capital One Bowl against Michigan as he was driving home to Bradenton, Sanders was determined to improve his situation the following year.
“After that game, I told my dad that night in the car that things were going to be different next year,” Sanders said. “I wanted the coaches to feel like they needed me in the game in order for us to win.”
That offseason, Sanders dedicated himself to his craft. He shed 20 pounds and began to exert himself consistently in practice as well as in the games. His head coach took notice.
“He is just a completely different player,” Meyer declared. “When you come to Florida, expectations are so high that everybody thinks you are going to be a Joe Haden, a Percy Harvin, a Tim Tebow or a Janoris Jenkins. That is very rare. Usually, the maturation process takes a couple of years.”
As a result of his commitment, he earned a starting role for the 2008 National Championship team, totaling 21 tackles and four tackles-for-loss. The 2009 season was also a successful one as he played in 12 games and registered 19 tackles and two tackles-for-loss for the Gators in a season in which the team finished 13-1 and capped it with a 51-24 demolition of Cincinnati in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
However, in the December preceding the Sugar Bowl, disaster struck in an unlikely manner. An on-campus scooter accident resulted in a torn ACL that threatened to impact his final year.
“I was just riding my scooter across campus and I hit a pothole,” Sanders recounted.
This could have been a devastating blow but he was adamant about not missing time in his senior season and, to that end, put in extra time rehabilitating the injury.
“I lived in the training room,” Sanders said. “This is my last year and I could not afford to miss games so I made it a point to live in the weight room trying to get ready for this season.”
After having surgery to repair the ACL in January, Sanders was back on the practice field six months later. Not only did he make it back in time for the regular season, but he has also made his presence felt, tallying 17 tackles with two tackles-for-loss heading into today’s home finale. Sanders’ 45-yard fumble recovery for his first career touchdown at Vanderbilt two weeks ago is one of the season’s highlights.
Although he is making an impact on the field, Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney praises Sanders for how he has matured away from the gridiron.
“He is one of the great success stories in this entire football program,” McCarney said. “This is my third year being with him and the development and what he has overcome with the injuries and ACL reconstruction and to come back and play like he has as a senior, it is inspiring to all of us around here. He was a young boy when I got here and he is a man’s man now.”
Being a contributing member of a national championship team at the University of Florida has cemented his legacy within the football program. However, the redshirt senior wants to leave lasting memories as a mentor as well. A Family, Youth and Community Sciences major, he is currently mentoring at Camp Gator and has been volunteering around the Gainesville community for the Goodwill Gators program throughout his time at Florida.
“I am paired up with a kid who goes to Williston Elementary,” Sanders said. “He’s the second-youngest out of eight and he lives in a two-bedroom apartment. I meet with him at school during their lunch period. We go over activities, set goals and play sports together at least once a week.”
The passion for working with children is far from a passing fancy. Sanders plans on having them be a major part of his future as he moves forward in life.
“When I hang up my cleats, I want to work with kids who are in need,” he disclosed. “I grew up working with kids and it is something that I really enjoy.”
As his time at Florida winds down, he is content with how his career has played out.
“I do not think I could ask for much more,” Sanders admitted. “Two National Championships and two SEC Championships — I have contributed to a lot of victories around here and I have been part of a team with many amazing athletes and players.”