Sanderson finds his niche
Even Bulls punter Devin Sanderson is quick to admit that kickers are a special breed.
Ã¬I know weÃre different than most players out there,Ã® Sanderson said. Ã¬WeÃre still running and lifting with all those guys. Some of the guys give us a hard time because weÃre not hitting the whole practice or doing all the same drills they are, but we try as much as we can to be a part of the team.Ã®
Sanderson was a huge part of the team when USF took on Arkansas Sept. 14. While the rest of the Bulls struggled immensely with a talented Razorback squad, Sanderson was quietly putting on a career game.
Ã¬I had a good game against Kentucky (in 2000), but IÃve never kicked one over 70 yards,Ã® Sanderson said. Ã¬It was unbelievable.Ã®
As unbelievable as the feeling was for Sanderson, he could only look on as both the BullsÃ offense and defense succumbed to an overpowering Arkansas team, erasing whatever elation the Bulls senior punter was having about his career day.
Ã¬I couldnÃt celebrate at all,Ã® Sanderson said. Ã¬The loss was more important than what I did. That overshadows everything.Ã®
As grave as the BullsÃ 42-3 thumping was, nothing could overshadow SandersonÃs effort. For the game, Sanderson punted nine times for 424 yards. Coming into the game, Sanderson had punted 12 times for 447 yards, a 37.2 average. SandersonÃs average vs. the Razorbacks was a whopping 10 yards better as he averaged 47.1. Sanderson set a career high with a 72-yard blast, then nearly had another, but it deflected off a player and Sanderson had to settle for a 60-yarder.
Ã¬Especially that first one; as soon as it left my foot, before I even looked up, I knew it was going to turn over into a spiral,Ã® Sanderson said of his booming 72-yard punt. Ã¬I have to credit my punt team, too. The protection was all there. They give me the time to get a good kickoff. And Justin (Daniel) with a good snap.Ã®
Like the rest of the team, Sanderson had a difficult task to deal with when faced with the rabid Razorback crowd of more than 55,000.
Ã¬That crowd was unbelievable,Ã® Sanderson said. Ã¬You couldnÃt hear anything. And there was a speaker from the student section. Every time I went out there, you could hear Ãblock that kick.Ã So hearing that, I couldnÃt hear any snap calls.
Ã¬IÃm just waiting for that ball to move. Most games you can hear the upback make the changes and say, Ãset.Ã But I couldnÃt hear anything, so I was just waiting for that ball to come back every time. I was like ÃMan, would that speaker shut up?Ã I just wanted to get that ball out of there.Ã®
The Bulls will be counting on Sanderson again to provide some quality kicks to save the Bulls from having to defend a short field against the SoonersÃ renown offense.
Ã¬You have to hope that field position is in your favor,Ã® USF coach Jim Leavitt said. Ã¬When Devin does have to punt, that thereÃs another 72-yard punt, and he does those kind of things. You hope they have to drive a long ways.Ã®
Sanderson, for one, is eager for the challenge that Oklahoma and 78,000 Sooners fans are going to provide.
Ã¬I canÃt wait, kicking in front of 70,000,Ã® Sanderson said. Ã¬(Two weeks ago), the crowd was so loud I couldnÃt hear any of the snaps or the calls. I was back there just waiting for the ball. I canÃt imagine what 70,000 is going to be like.Ã®
The contest will be especially satisfying for the native of Mullicia, N.J., one of eight non-Floridians on the team, because the national television audience means his family back home can watch him for the first time.
Originally a soccer player for 13 years, a disagreement with his coach at Clearview High School led Sanderson to take up football. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Sanderson had some offers, but his heart was in Florida, where he had lived for seven years as a child.
Ã¬I knew I wanted to go to school somewhere in Florida,Ã® Sanderson said. Ã¬I wanted to get out of Jersey. I sent a tape to coach Leavitt, talked to him, and he said, ÃWhy donÃt you come down here and walk-on?Ã
Ã¬I got recruited by a lot of schools, but I wanted to come to Florida. Florida State offered me a walk-on, but I thought I had a better shot playing faster here, so thatÃs why I decided on South Florida.Ã®
Sanderson redshirted his first season at USF and spent much of that year and the next gleaning tips from Tony Umholtz, who signed on as free agent with the New York Giants in 2000. Umholtz still returns to USF to help his former understudy refine his skills.
Ã¬Consistency,Ã® Sanderson said. Ã¬He comes back, and I saw him a couple of times this year at practice; he said, ÃTry to get hang time, and the best thing is to be consistent.Ã He keeps telling me that all the time. If you can just get consistent and get hang time, then youÃll get a shot.Ã®
With a similar performance to the one he had against Arkansas, Sanderson could be well on the way to earning his chance at the next level.
Ã¬Hopefully, I can take the momentum from this game and carry it through this season,Ã® Sanderson said. Ã¬Then, if I can get a couple of tryouts, thatÃs pretty much all I ask for is give me a shot. Let me decide my future.Ã®
If Sanderson didnÃt feel like an integral part of the team before the Arkansas game, he should now. However, Sanderson was out of the loop on the BullsÃ biggest play of the game.
Ã¬I didnÃt even hear the fake punt call,Ã® Sanderson said of Kawika MitchellÃs rumble to the 4-yard line that was called back on a penalty. Ã¬I thought it was just a horrible snap. We looked at the film (Monday), and you could see me start running forward because I thought it was a bad snap. I couldnÃt hear anything, so I was ready for it to come back. I saw Kawika take off, and I was (like), ÃOK.Ã Then, IÃm supposed to jump up and pretend it was a bad snap.
Ã¬I was only a good three seconds late.Ã®
Anthony Gagliano covers USF football and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org