Miles Sanders: Stepping into the spotlight
Miles Sanders is no stranger to the spotlight; he was a star even before arriving at Penn State, rushing for 4,573 yards and 59 touchdowns while at Woodland Hills High School. During his high school career, Sanders was not only named Pennsylvania’s Mr. Football, but he was also the nation’s No. 1 high school running back prospect in 2015.
Although Sanders is coming into the season under heavy scrutiny and high expectations, in true Penn State fashion, he's taking everything in stride and focusing on the new season.
“I’m just ready to show the world what I can do. [I'm] just ready to be Miles Sanders, [I’m] not trying to be Saquon, [I’m] just focused on me.” Sanders says during Penn States’ Lift for Life charity event on June 30.
As Barkley moves to the NFL and Sanders moves forward to make the running back position his own, Sanders says their relationship remains strong.
“I actually talked to him recently. [He was] asking how I am, how my body is, how my mind is, how I’m feeling about the season; he just wants the best for me. I’ve sat behind him for two years and learned a lot, on and off the field.”
After spending two seasons following and learning from Barkley, Sanders is more than capable of taking over as running back next season. During his time at Penn State, Sanders has averaged 6.7 yards per carry and 6.8 yards per catch. Sanders excelled not only on the offensive side of the ball, but in the return game, as well. In 2016 he was third in the Big Ten in kickoff return yards, and since arriving at Penn State, he’s averaged 20.1 yards per return. His collegiate sample size may be limited, but Sanders has been preparing for this moment since he first stepped foot in Happy Valley.
“[I’m] trying to be an all-around, all-purpose back so that hopefully I can be like Saquon," Sanders says of his preparation for the new season. "Saquon did a lot of catching the ball out of the backfield stuff; running backs in the league right now are perfecting that.”
To become that all-purpose back, Sanders says, it’s important to “focus on the little things.
“We work hard, we practice hard, but if we focus on the little things, I think we’ll see a big difference next year. Coach Franklin talks about it a lot. We won a bowl game last year, but we want to be in the playoffs, so we have to do every little thing right.”
To ensure they "do every little thing right," quarterback Trace McSorley needs protection from his offensive line and time to put plays into action. To do his part in giving McSorley the time and space he needs, Sanders is focusing on becoming a better blocker and protecting his quarterback this upcoming season.
“Miles has come to work with the same attitude he’s always had,” McSorley says. “[He’s] kind of one of those [guys who] keeps his mouth shut, but he’s going to work and impress you. He continues to get faster, he’s filling out and getting bigger.”
Even with all he’s accomplished so far, Sanders’ best is yet to come.
“I think he’s a guy who has been overshadowed a little bit [by] the guy who was in front of him, but I’m excited to see what Miles is gonna do.” McSorley said. “A lot of people haven’t gotten a glimpse of what he can do, even us to a certain extent. I’m excited for him to come out and show out and get his opportunity.”