Terrance Sanders turns himself into Arena Football League's top kick returner

adell@bradenton.comJuly 18, 2013 

Sometimes it takes awhile to find the right fit.

For 29-year-old Terrance Sanders the wait was 14 years.

It took patience and a resolve for the Palmetto native not to quit when things looked bleak.

Now the rewards are coming in for the Spokane Shock defensive back/kick returner.

He leads the Arena Football League in kickoff return yardage and is on the verge of becoming the best kickoff returner in league history.

"Terrance has great vision and when he gets the ball he can get going vertically very quickly. He attacks the kickoff team," Shock head coach Andy Olson says.

As with most things in the indoor AFL, it's a lot tougher for offensive players who have to maneuver on a field about half the size of the outdoor game.

"There is not certainly less room to work with and everything happens so much faster," Olson says.

"Terrance makes it nice for us because our blockers don't have to hold their blocks as long. He hits the holes real quick."

Heading into the final weeks of the regular season, Sanders leads the AFL in kick return yardage (2,003 yards) and yards per return, averaging 23.6 (minimum 30 car

ries). He has returned five kickoffs for TDS this season and 16 for his career. He is also third in the league with 90 tackles.

Kickoffs in the AFL nearly always hit the back of the net behind the end zone.

"To return kicks in the Arena League you have to be fearless," Sanders says. "You field the ball off the net. You have to be able to read the rebound, catch it, turnaround and take off."

In 2000 when he played his final football game for Palmetto High, Sanders wasn't sure if he would ever step on the field again.

Prior to his senior year, he transferred to Manatee and the Florida High School Athletic Association ruled he couldn't play because he was recruited.

His uncle, Tracy Sanders, was a defensive backs coach for Manatee, and back then that's all anyone needed to win an argument that a player was recruited.

Terrance stayed at Manatee and graduated in 2002. Considered a likely Division I prospect, his stock dropped because he didn't play.

"I had an offer from Eastern Illinois. Vanderbilt was very interested, but there was a coaching change there and they stopped recruiting me," Sanders recalled.

He signed with Eastern Illinois and was the team's starting cornerback his first two years until he injured his right knee and became a part-time player his last two years.

Sanders finished his college career in 2006 much the same way he finished high school. There wasn't much film on him and he had only one NFL team looking at him in the nearby Indianapolis Colts.

"I didn't play my first year out of college. I was working to strengthen my knee and get in better shape," he says.

Under the tutelage of Tracy Sanders, Terrance went to a regional NFL combine in New Orleans. He didn't get signed, but the Utah Blaze of the Arena League invited him to a tryout and eventually signed him to a rookie contract.

Sanders lasted only three games before he was released. He wasn't ready, but he wasn't done.

He signed on with Boise of the Arena Football League2, which was considered an AFL minor league team, but Sanders saw it as an opportunity to refine his skills.

He played there two years and earned first team All-League honors as a defensive back/kick returner intercepting eight passes and returning seven kickoffs for touchdowns.

Sanders was becoming a special type of player.

"Arena2 was more of a developmental league. It gave me a chance to improve my game," he says.

Sanders went back to the regular AFL in 2010 signing with the Arizona Rattlers. He played the middle DB position, which involves covering the receiver who is allowed to go in motion.

Sanders has been with Spokane the last three years. He earns $875 per game and like most AFL players has an off-season job. He works as a technician for a company that builds robotic motors.

Recently when Spokane came to Tampa to play the Storm he covered his boyhood friend Joe Hills, who played at Palmetto.

"Joe hit us for four touchdowns. He is an excellent receiver and with a guy like him you just want to make sure he works hard," Sanders said. "We grew up on the same street and he has skills you just can't teach."

Olson considers Sanders indispensable because of the many things the 5-11, 185 pounder can do.

"Terrance is our veteran guy back there (in the secondary)," the coach says. "He plays the most difficult position and tells our other guys where to play. What makes him such a good defensive back is his patience. He knows when a receiver is going to make a move and waits for the right time to make his move."

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