Two weeks ago, Jock Sanders was over 2,500 miles away from British Columbia, Canada and was without a football team. After getting signed to the B.C. Lions practice squad last week, Sanders could start this weekend against Avon Cobourne's Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Sanders has only been through four practices with the Lions, but because of injuries and skillset has come off the practice squad to being in the mix to start.
Two months ago, Sanders was returning kicks for his hometown Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sanders was the best statistical return man for the Bucs during the Preseason but because the team already had an abundance of other players to fill that need, Sanders was cut. Before signing with the Bucs, Sanders drew interest from several other teams but chose to sign with his hometown Bucs-a lifelong dream of his.
“The Bucs were already loaded at returner when I got there," Sanders said. "I should have done a little bit more homework. I made a bad decision to go there. I should have gone to a team that could really use me.”
After being released by the Bucs, Sanders severed ties with his agent. Sanders continued to train in Miami, but because he didn't have an agent, he was left out of the loop as NFL teams tried to fill their rosters after cutdowns. Teams in the CFL negotiate with American players though negotiation lists. A team will place a claim on a player from the States they may be interested in sometime in the future. The B.C. Lions placed Sanders on their negotiation list in 2008. They've been interested in the former Mountaineer since he was a member of the Mountaineer football team. Sanders signed a two year contract with the Lions apparently after they gave him a call.
“I didn’t have an agent, so other teams didn’t know who to call,” he explained. “But I’ve got this year, and next year (with the Lions) to hopefully build up my reputation.”At this point, Sanders has only participated in four practices with the Lions. In that time, he leapfrogged over other veteran running backs on the roster. Last week, against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Lions starting running back/ kick returner, Tim Brown suffered a rib cartilage injury. Now Sanders all-purpose game is going to give him the chance to start.
Sanders is still learning the playbook but has learned enough to get him on the field.
Sanders fits the mold of other successful players in the CFL. Detroit Lions kick returner Stefan Logan was a Pro-Bowl alternate last year and he is the same size as Sanders. Logan played for the Lions for one season before signing with the Pittsburgh Steelers where he went on to set a Steelers kick return record during his rookie season.
Will Sanders have the same success as Logan? Time will tell, but it appears as though he will have the opportunity to prove he can play at a professional level at his size.
“I try to get up to five-foot-eight, but I’m really five-seven, if that,” Jock Sanders candidly told reporters after Wednesday’s practice with the B.C. Lions. “I don’t have a weight problem. I have a height problem.”The Lions head coach is also their GM, Wally Buono. Buono talked about giving Sanders the opportunity to play this early after watching Sanders play for three years in Morgantown after adding him to the negotiations list.
“If you don’t give him opportunities to do what he’s doing, you’ll never know: One, if he knows what the hell he’s doing, and two, if he can cope with the load he’s being given. I know he’s got the skill set,” Buono explained.