Bentlee Sanders was distressed.
The defensive back from Tampa Catholic High School spent many nights alone in his room during his sophomore season, crying to himself while he patiently waited for his torn posterior cruciate ligament to heal.
“Is this the end of my career? Am I going to get an offer or anything?” Sanders thought.
Wednesday afternoon at Tampa Catholic, Sanders made his commitment to USF official when he signed his National Letter of Intent alongside friends and family.
“I’ve been looking forward to this day since I started putting pads on,” Sanders said. “It’s a great feeling, I can’t ask for anything better than this.”
Though the injury sidelined Sanders for his entire sophomore season, he battled back to earn a three-star rating and offers from 10 schools, including USF, Toledo and Arizona.
“He never showed it outwardly, he’s that kind of kid,” Tampa Catholic coach Mike Gregory said. “He kind of internalized that. If he sat in his bedroom and cried, we didn’t know about it until afterward when he told us.
“But at times, you could tell it was getting to him a little bit. The first thing you think with a knee injury is, ‘Uh-Oh, can I recover from this?’ You’re 15 years old, you’re vulnerable. But he very rarely externalized that and that speaks to his character.”
Gregory described Sanders as “a warrior” who isn’t bothered by adversity or pressure. For Gregory, what sets Sanders apart from the pack is his “no quit, even-keeled” attitude.
Sanders, who recorded 104 tackles and five interceptions over his final two seasons, said even though the injury tested him, he’s become stronger because of it.
“I learned that if you pray to God, work hard and don’t quit on yourself, then you can accomplish anything. It taught me courage,” Sanders said. “I feel accomplished. I feel like I did what I had to do and I got it done.”
The 5-foot-8, 165-pound defensive back became one of 18 recruits to pledge their college years to USF on Wednesday.
USF’s 2017 class was projected to finish last in the conference, but is ranked fifth best in the AAC after some surprise additions on National Signing Day, according to 247sports.
Sanders, who is ranked as the sixth best commit of USF’s 2017 class, said he envisions himself earning some immediate playing time as a Bull and even starting as a true freshman.
With new coach Charlie Strong returning most of last season’s record-breaking team, Sanders predicted that the Bulls will have an even better year than they did in 2016.
“11-2? You can’t go wrong with that, that’s a great record,” Sanders said. “Next year, I feel like we’ll go undefeated. I think we can do that, easily.”