Scott Sanders loves all things baseball. It extended to a stint as manager of the Fort Lupton High School softball team in 2020; in the fall season, it was the closest thing to baseball he could find.
But last year, Sanders wanted to try something different.
“Coach (Joey) O’Connor had seen me heading out to baseball one day and introduced himself,” Sanders said. “Coach asked me if I had thought about playing football, and I practically laughed at him.”
“He laughed me off and said, ‘Not a chance, coach. But thanks for trying,” O’Connor said. “Once he got to practice, that is when our relationship became stronger.”
Two of his baseball teammates, Danny Rodriguez and Isaac Rodriguez, also played on the Bluedevils’ squad. Danny Rodriguez was a wide receiver and a cornerback, while Isaac Rodriguez played running back.
“So, naturally, they hounded me until I finally said, ‘I’ll go to one practice,’” Sanders said. “One practice turned into one season, and now, I plan to play my senior year as well.”
Sanders played football in middle school.
“But (I) was always undersized and just not quite athletic enough,” he said. “So, I didn’t play a whole lot. I consider this my first true year of football.”
He finished the season with three carries for 8 yards and a pass reception for 4 yards.
“I came in thinking I wanted to play slot wide receiver,” Sanders said. “I have always been a football fan and understood the game pretty well. I figured I am fast, fairly small and catching touchdown passes sounded really nice.”
About two weeks into practice, O’Connor asked Sanders to take some snaps at running back.
“From there, I never practiced with receivers again,” Sanders said. “Similarly with defense, I wanted to play safety or corner (cornerback), and coaches thought I could make a good linebacker. So, I tried it a few times, and then, that was my new position.”
“Scotty is a very coachable player,” O’Connor said. “he is the type of kid that will do anything you ask. He started as a WR (wide receiver) and DB (defensive back) but ended up playing RB (running back) and LB (linebacker). This was his first time playing football in a few years, so it took him a few weeks to grasp the game.”
Sanders still remembers his “firsts” on the varsity team and admits to remembering a few more than others.
“My first varsity carry, my first start, the list goes on,” Sanders said. “One that really stands out is my first interception. Before going out, Coach Casey (Casey Hofferber) relayed a message from Coach Chris (Chris Tijerina) and said, ‘Somebody go get me the football.’
“Then, on three back-to-back-to-back plays, I allowed 20-plus yards. I could tell the offense was picking on me,” Sanders added. “I showed them a weak link, and they wanted to exploit it. I told myself, ‘I wasn’t getting burned again, and I was done giving up yards.’”
The next throw was deep and toward the end zone.
“After that, all I remember is standing up, pointing the football at Coach Chris, then running back towards the sideline, holding the ball in the air.”
Sanders didn’t have to make a lot of adjustments.
“Tackling came pretty easy to me,” he said. “I have a deep wrestling background, so I understand what I have to do to bring guys down. Something that was especially hard was learning the playbook. I like to think I’m pretty intelligent and can learn most things with enough time and practice. It just so happened that the playbook was one of those things that took a lot of time and practice.”
Sanders is interested in playing football in the fall, though he’s not 100 percent sure of his plans. Even if he doesn’t play again, he took advantage of the social aspect of a new team sport.
“On top of Danny and Isaac pressuring me to play, they also introduced me to Will (quarterback Will Alvarado) in a way,” Sanders said. “I had known Will for years but never been close with him. After we hung out a few times with mutual friends, he also started pressuring me to play. When you have QB1, WR1 and an RB1 (starters at those positions) all pressuring you to play, it makes it really hard to tell them no.”
“The most important thing I have learned about Scotty is that he is about the team and has adapted to the culture we are building,” O’Connor said. “He wants what’s best for the team, even if that means he’s a starter or just a special-teams guy. he is a competitor and wants to win, but he wants to win the right way.”
“The season was very fun for me,” Sanders said. “I definitely got used to going home with bumps and bruises. I had a lot of really good experiences, had the chance to work with some great coaches and met some great people that I may never have talked to if not for football.
“Whatever happens, I’ll go in whatever direction God wants me to go. And whatever He throws at me, I’ll take in stride,” he concluded. “The change (in the athletic culture at FLHS) is real. Coach O’Connor preached it to us all year, I could see it from the start. The culture of student-athletes is changing. The emphasis is on the fact that we are students before we are athletes. Regardless of how our next season plays out, Fort Lupton High School football is changing the culture for the better at Fort Lupton.”
O’Connor said Sanders is an example “of what happens when you buy into the program.”
“Scotty and many others players are bought in, and I am excited to see what not just him but his senior class can do in the offseason and next fall. I know that his first love is baseball, and I cannot wait to see what he does ion the future. I am excited to be able to coach him for the two short years I will get to.”