Starting quarterback with a name the world knows goes into the game, out of the shadows

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Deion Sanders Jr. knows what they say in the hallways. They say he’ll be a terrible quarterback. That he’s too short. That he can’t see squat past the six-feet-something offensive linemen. That he’s cocky. That he can’t complete passes. That he’ll never amount to anything. That he’ll never be his dad.

But now, as the stands of Standridge stadium clear, and grinning families, cheerleaders and Marquettes swarm the field to greet exhausted players, Sanders’ eyes glance over the scoreboard. Marcus 33, Garland 13.

It wasn’t supposed to happen. The previous day, eight out of nine Dallas Morning News sports analysts had cast their vote for the Owls. Garland went 9-2 in district last year, and their quarterback Dawson Hadnot was an immovable 240 pound 6-feet-1-inch wall. Garland was supposed to crush by 12.

But then there was Sanders. He nimbly dodged blitzes, discreetly handed off to running backs Rufus Mason and Dagan Newsome, then got pinned to the turf by a pile of stocky Garland defense men mere seconds after throwing a 33-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

“Everybody in the school, everybody outside of the school thought we were going to lose,” Sanders said. “That we didn’t even have a chance. We proved everybody wrong.”

His dad, Deion “Neon Deion” Sanders, is an athletic megastar. He won Super Bowls with both the Cowboys and the 49ers. He played outfielder for the Yankees, the Reds, the Braves and the Giants. He has the fastest recorded 40 meter dash in the history of all NFL players and is a commentator on NFl network.

It’s the shadow cast by his father that Deion’s trying to outrace.

And this unexpected victory is the first step.

***

Moving in from Cedar Hill where he was primarily a wide receiver and special teams player, Sanders came to the program as a quarterback, a position he hasn’t played since he was a freshman.

“You just can’t make mistakes,” Sanders said. “You can’t—like all eyes are on you. You can’t do anything stupid. People look up to you.”

To Head Coach Bryan Erwin, Sanders moved in at the right time. The 5’7″ quarterback entered the program just when career leading running back Stephen Hopkins left to play for Michigan. Sanders was fast in pads. He was elusive, he could run 40 meter in 4:55. He had “his little dance steps” according to Erwin that confused the defense and helped him run a 59 yard touchdown against Grapevine in the second quarter. He was an ideal fit for the rush-happy empire Erwin had been trying to perfect since his arrival in 2007.

“He’s smiling and he’s loosey goosy,” Erwin said. “He’s not real emotional. He’s always poised and under control and I don’t see any fear in his eyes.”

On the field, Sanders is solemn, contemplative. He kneels to the side away from the bench, hand resting on this helmet, analyzing the defense. In the huddles, he’s serious. Off the field, he’s a laugh. He sits at a packed lunch table every day with other football players.

“He’s one of those people that everybody loves,” running back Rufus Mason said.

Recently Sanders was named the number three celebrity son playing high school football on Maxpreps.com. The school and the media, Sanders acknowledges, see him as just that, Deion Sanders’ son.

“My friends, the people I hang out with, the football team, they look at me as their quarterback and their friend,” Sanders said. “At first they weren’t used to me, but then we got cool with each other. … They didn’t even say, ‘Hey, can I have your dad’s autograph?’ But I’m so used to it by now, it happens everywhere I go.”

***

It’s Friday afternoon. The conference room of the new football office is abandoned, swivel chairs scattered, a model of a defensive play scribbled on the white board. All boys were dismissed to the locker room half an hour ago, but Sanders sits in the coach Bryan Erwin’s office in a cherry red sports jacket, hunched over a cell phone on speaker. The lights are switched off.

“So Deion, what kind of relationship do you have with your father?” said a voice on the phone.

“Me and my father have a great relationship,” Sanders replied.

Somewhat unsatisfied, the eager reporter from Rivals.com probes further through the speaker.

“How often do you get to talk to him?”

Sanders laughs half-heartedly. “I talk to him everyday, he’s my father.”

In truth, his dad, who lives about a 50 minute drive away in Prosper, comes out to almost every practice. He’ll sit in the stands, he’ll analyze.

On the weekends when he’s at his dad’s house, they bowl. They play basketball. They go to Luby’s, his dad’s favorite place, and then sometimes Waffle House. He insists that having an athlete dad isn’t pressure. It just helps.

“Since he’s good, he’s going to teach me what he knows and I’ll be even better,” Sanders said. “Other than that just football technique, he’s taught me most of all how to be a man. I’ll have kids one day, so how to be a father, how to treat women, how to treat people.”

***

It’s been raining since 4 p.m., but Sanders sits comfortably on a brown leather couch watching the Tyler Lee vs. Euless Trinity game with his mom and uncle. Practice was rained out and he just got back from treatment. Half-empty pizza boxes cover the glass coffee table and shoes in every style and color scatter across the floor. Sanders dumps a package of parmesan on his slice of sausage and pepperoni. The lighting is low as he takes a bite, focused on the game.

“When you play football, you have to live, breathe, everything football,” Sanders said. “It’s not just something to do on Fridays, it’s a lifestyle.”

The walls of his bedroom are stark white and bare. His bed is unmade. Exactly 23 pairs of shoes line up in two rows against the wall.

“I’m really color coordinated,” Sanders said. “I love matching. I will never go out of the house without matching.”

A trophy sits on the ebony dresser beside Sander’s bed amidst half filled water bottles and a red sports jacket — a faded silver man with a plaque beneath him, “Deion Sanders, Defensive Player of the Year, San Francisco 49ers, 1994.” It was gift from his dad but he doesn’t remember from exactly when.

On his door are 19 college letters taped in rows. One from LSU, two from Iowa State, two from University of Florida, two from University of Houston, two from Oklahoma, two from Alabama and five from UCLA.

He’s still not sure which school he sees himself playing for; he’d rather let them come to him.
“It’s just motivation,” Sanders said. “I got to be doing something right.”

Still, Sanders doesn’t know if he’s to be the football player everyone expects him to be. From out his front door, he can see the rain letting up, the sun sinking beneath a bed of thin clouds.

He’s ready to step out of the shadow.

“They just compare me to my father,” Sanders said. “They say ‘You’re never going to amount to him. You’re never going to be like him.’ They’re actually right, I’m going to be better.”

 

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