We will never know just how good Terron Sanders could’ve been.
Injuries robbed us of that luxury, but the good thing is they can never take away his rich memories.
The defensive tackle played in every game and started 12 of 14 for the University of Florida’s 2008 college football national champions. He was a red-shirt freshman on the 2006 title team and enjoyed the ride.
It was more than Sanders could’ve expected when he graduated from Southeast in 2006 and headed north to the school that had been his boyhood favorite.
Florida was the last of many major programs to offer Sanders, and he committed on the spot.
It has been a learning process stymied by injuries, which could be why the 23-year-old did not get his name called during this year’s NFL Draft. Last season’s debacle of a season in the Swamp didn’t help.
Sanders is in Gainesville finishing the one class he needs to receive his degree as a family youth community science major and is getting ready for when the NFL opens business.
“When the lockout ends, I know everything is going to be accelerated and abbreviated and it’s going to be tough for incoming undrafted free agents,” Sanders said. “We are only going to have a few days to show them what we can do and prove we should make the cut.”
Sanders knows about bucking tough odds.
He had knee surgery after the 2009 season for a torn anterior cruciate ligament and had to shut down his career without playing in the Outback Bowl in January, opting for surgery to reconstruct his labrum after the regular season finale against Florida State.
The 6-foot-2 Sanders is weighing in at about 320 pounds. He is hoping to trim about 10 more pounds off his frame, but says he is fully recovered from his two experiences under the surgeon’s knife.
“I think the NFL didn’t want to take a chance on me as a draft pick because of the injuries and am just hoping to get an opportunity to show them what I can do,” Sanders said. “I have no problems coming in as a free agent. I’ve gotten calls from the Arena Football League and have considered the UFL (United Football League), but right now I just want to focus on the NFL. The lockout has been frustrating, especially for the rookies because we don’t have a foundation.”
Sanders is a man now. When he first got up to Gainesville as a freshman, he didn’t realize what college football was about, and his immaturity almost got him sent back home.
He sat out his freshman year and got so irresponsible with his workouts that head coach Urban Meyer called his family up to Gainesville for a face-to-face meeting.
Sanders was close to getting the boot, but the incident woke him up. He finally realized the coaches were trying to help him.
He said fellow Southeast grad and heralded defensive back Jon Dowling, went through the same thing when he was at Florida this past season.
Unfortunately, Dowling was dismissed from the team and is now at Western Kentucky. But Sanders said it didn’t have to happen that way.
“In high school, you are a big fish in a small pond. You get here and you are an average-size fish in an ocean,” Sanders said. “I feel the transition from high school to college took its toll on him. It came down to maturity, and I don’t think he (Dowling) handled it well. He does have the ability to make a name for himself if he wants, and I wish him the best.”
Sanders also wishes Florida well, though his playing days are over and there is a new head coach in Will Muschamp.
Under Meyer, the Gators won two national championships, but there appears to be some anxiety in Gainesville now amid criticism that Muschamp has become an overbearing disciplinarian.
Some people think the new coach has taken on a “bad cop” role. Sanders doesn’t share that view.
“The workouts are hard, but it’s similar to what coach Meyer did his first year,” Sanders said. “A new coach comes in, and he has to prove something and gain the respect of the players. I saw a lot of good things in spring practice. They are going to surprise a lot of people.
“They have a new defensive coordinator and he is going to bring something different and confuse a lot of teams, and I think the offense is more suited for our new offensive coordinator, Charlie Weis.”
Now Sanders is hoping he can surprise some people and earn a spot on an NFL team.
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 745-2112.