Auburn, Ala.--It has been a crazy ride for Craig Sanders and the rest of his senior teammates during their time at Auburn. Going from winning it all in 2010 to seeing everything fall apart last year, the group has gone from the mountaintop to the valley in just three seasons.
Through it all Sanders has stayed the course, finishing his Auburn degree this the summer in just three years.
Now focused on finishing his football career on a high note, the defensive end said no matter where the road takes him he will always have his time at Auburn and that very important piece of paper in his hand.
“It’s really awesome for me to be going into my senior season and already having a degree in my hand,” Sanders says. “In January, if football doesn’t work out where I can go on to the next level, I know what I’ve got my education and my degree that I can fall back on to carry me through life.”
Earning his degree in Human Development and Family Studies, Sanders can now focus on his final year of football on the Plains while also beginning graduate school work. While the regular fan sees the glamorous part of playing college football in the SEC, Sanders notes it takes a great deal of work to succeed both on the field and in the classroom.
“During the fall you really don’t take a big load of classes,” he points out. “You usually take the right amount of classes to stay eligible. In the spring you get the biggest load. In the summer it’s up to that person how many hours they want to take. Usually a student-athlete takes about six hours, but I took 12 hours the past two summers so I could graduate before my final season.”
Craig Sanders is hoping to have an increased role as a senior
With his degree in hand Sanders is fired up about the 2013 season under the direction of Gus Malzahn. Needing a new attitude to develop around the program, Sanders notes it started when Ryan Russell came in as the strength and conditioning coordinator and it has continued throughout the summer as the Tigers get ready for a new season.
“I've been telling everybody who's asked me about the offseason and all that--this is the best offseason we've had as far as coming together as a team, growing closer, getting stronger in the weight room,” Sanders says. “As a defense this season everybody is in their play books, doing extra, watching film, coming together. The first five days have been really good.”
With Dee Ford established at one of the defensive end positions, there is a battle on the other side to see who will earn the starting spot. While Kenneth Carter and Nosa Eguae appear to be the two in the mix, Sanders is working to earn a spot in the playing rotation this fall at perhaps Auburn's deepest position with talented freshmen Carl Lawson and Elijah Daniel thrown into the mix.
His role could be as more of an outside linebacker-type in 2013 however as the Tigers want to be much more multiple with formations and fronts. Sanders says it has taken some getting used to, but he’s feeling comfortable with the move.
“We have an odd package where we stand up more,” he says. “I'm used to my hand being in the ground and now we're starting to stand up on the outside, rushing and jumping back into coverage a lot more. Those are some things I've been working on. I continue to work on pass rush and run fits and everything.”
A highly-recruited player out of tiny Ariton High School, Sanders came into the Auburn program with a lot of promise and gave a glimpse of that in 2010 as a true freshman. Perhaps the Tigers’ top special teams performer, Sanders made eight total tackles and got a sack in the SEC Championship Game win over South Carolina.
Since that time, however, he has only managed 22 total tackles in 24 games the last two seasons with one sack.
Hoping to finish on a high note this fall, Sanders says he and the other defensive linemen have worked hard with Coach Rodney Garner to become more physical. That includes being more violent with their hands, a trait that is a must for a defensive lineman in the SEC. With a group that is hungry to put a woeful 2012 season to rest and start a new defensive legacy at Auburn, Sanders notes they’re shooting for the mountaintop once again.
“There is a lot of fuel to it,” he says of coming off a bad season. “We want to be number one in the SEC and number one in the nation on defense. That’s our goal.”
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