By TONY ADAME
The Wichita Eagle
PITTSBURG – Jasper Sanders stepped on the scale recently, and when the numbers started to light up past the 200-pound mark, pockets started to empty.
The Butler Community College sophomore running back, for some reason, couldn’t fathom his own success.
“I was sitting there watching him, laughing, basically telling him just to deal with it,” said Jasper’s father, Jeff. “That’s what a couple of years in the weight room will do to you. He kept telling me ‘it’s got to be 199,’ like there was no way he’d gotten that big.”
In two years with the Grizzlies, Sanders has blown up in more ways than one. Headed into Saturday’s Citizens Bank Bowl matchup against No. 10 Trinity Valley, Sanders had rushed for a team-leading 894 yards and 13 touchdowns.
A full qualifier out of Kansas City Piper, where he played quarterback, Sanders transformed himself in two years into what he thought he could be – a Division I running back. Several MIAA schools wanted Sanders out of high school, but when Division I offers didn’t come he decided to go to Butler, where his father won a national title as a defensive back in 1980 before playing for Northern Illinois and in the Canadian Football League.
“I wanted to give myself a shot at my dream,” Sanders said. “And Butler has turned me into a man.”
At 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds, Sanders clocked a 4.37-second 40-yard dash during preseason testing. He’s got offers from South Dakota and Tennessee-Martin on the table already, but more could be coming – it’s just the nature of the beast in junior colleges. In a lot of cases, a player won’t know his college destination until the weeks before the semester starts.
“It’s a lot of uncertainty, which is hard to deal with,” Sanders said. “I’m trying to be patient and also enjoy the success we’ve had … I’ve won 22 games at Butler and we’re going for another one, which I think is pretty impressive.”
The winning has been impressive – Butler went 11-1 last year and lost in the national title game. The Grizzlies won Jayhawk Conference and Region VI titles this season and are 10-1 and ranked No. 3 headed into the Citizens Bank Bowl.
What’s probably more impressive has been Sanders’ ability to become the featured runner in a backfield with two other potential Division I running backs in freshmen Derrick Thomas (745 yards, 6 touchdowns) and Dreamius Smith (653 yards, 9 touchdowns). Last month, Sanders was named All-Jayhawk Conference.
“Jasper has always worked extremely hard,” Butler coach Troy Morrell said. “He’s kind of shy, and it’s been neat to see him kind of grow up around us the last two years.”
Sanders has come into his own in more ways than one – his twitter account — @Jasper_Sanders – is a favorite among Jayhawk fans. He’s constantly updating about his music tastes – rapper Drake in particular – practice sessions, upcoming opponents and college life in general.
“I guess that’s kind of part of me coming out of my shell,” Sanders said. “It’s all in fun. I’m a pretty positive person and I just want to make life fun and have a good time at what I do. I’ve made a lot of good friends at Butler and, like I said, I’ve grown up. But now I’m ready for the next step.