INDIANAPOLIS — When Woodland Hills running back Miles Sanders decided to attend Penn State for college, he did it with an eye on the NFL.
When he got there, things didn’t exactly go according to plan.
Sanders, a five-star recruit and the No. 1 running back in the country, committed to Penn State in July of 2014, before his junior year of high school.
In 2015, while Sanders was earning national accolades at Woodland Hills, another guy you may have heard of was doing the same for the Nittany Lions.
Saquon Barkley didn’t go to Happy Valley with the same kind of hype that Sanders possessed, but he had the advantage of being a year older, and he took advantage of that year, rushing for 1,076 yards on 5.9 yards per carry as a freshman in 2015.
Still, Sanders figured that a player of his talents would be able to find a way to get on to the field. Instead, he had just 25 carries his freshman year and 31
“Coming in, I was expecting to play a lot as a freshman being highly recruited,” he said. “When I got there, it wasn’t how I expected it. I was expecting it to be a 1-2 punch type of thing. I ended up learning a lot from him, picking stuff from his brain, seeing how he learns, prepares for games, like film-wise and how he works.”
After two years of sitting behind Barkley and another as the lead back, Sanders felt tha the had done enough to prepare himself for the NFL and entered the draft. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t get anything out of his three years at Penn State.
For one, in an age where running backs are judged partially on their ability and partially on their ability to avoid injury, he might have the fewest miles on his odometer of any back in the draft.
He also used the time when he wasn’t staring to grow as a person and as a football player.
“Just learning to be more patient and being more mature on and off the field,” Sanders said. “I carry myself better off the field. Just going through that whole process, not being too frustrated, going through adversity, all of that stuff.”
Now, Sanders is again putting himself out there, looking for a team that will trust him with that lead-back role. This time, he doesn’t have any control over the process, but that’s the message that he’s been spreading in his meeting with NFL teams.
The one exception to that might be a return to Pittsburgh, where Sanders would undoubtedly share carries with fellow WPIAL alum James Conner. But he seemed open to that possibility when asked.
“I would love to play for Mike Tomlin,” Sanders said. “I asked certain people on the Steelers staff how he is. They said he’s a cool dude, laid back. I know a lot of Pitt players who run into him at the facility. I’d be honored to play for the Steelers.”
Wherever he ends up, Sanders has one thing that he didn’t accomplish at Penn State that’s still on his bucket list: he’s two semesters away from his degree. But he promised his mother that he’d go back for that someday.
It didn’t work out how he envisioned it at first, but Sanders is in good shape to accomplish everything he set out to when he first left home.