As the high-school football playoffs heat up this week, running back/linebacker Derick Sanders has a few questions about how elite teams operate.
Sanders, who started both ways as a freshman, never tasted a winning season or playoff football, and it haunts him.
"How do great teams flip the switch to raise their level of play?" Sanders said. "Is it the coaches or the player, and what makes great teams special?"
As a freshman, the 5-foot-11 Sanders helped Murray win three games as an undersized, hard-hitting linebacker. He just was happy to be on the field with older brother Cameron.
Sanders led a three-win team in tackles his sophomore year, and he notched 125 tackles while rushing for 554 yards with three scores in a one-win junior campaign.
He often found himself alone in the Murray weight room and spent exhaustive hours reviewing film, questioning what more he could have done.
"He's a scholar of the game now, and he watches film looking for any little nuance he could have improved," his father, Brad Sanders, said.
Father and son hit the gym in the offseason with the intent of gaining mass and strengthening an already solid foundation.
Sanders reached 214 pounds, benched 290, squatted 415 and power-cleaned 290. During the most difficult of preseason workouts, the Murray captain was thinking, "Make the playoffs and earn a college scholarship."
At 1-9, the Spartans failed to make the playoffs.
"We lost two games in overtime and three on last-minute drives," Sanders said. "We were so close. Just getting there would have been the perfect ending."
As first-year coach Mike Richmond attended playoff games last week, he too had some questions.
"I think he would have put up some monster numbers behind some of those lines," Richmond said.
While only a few colleges have shown minor interest, Richmond, who played at the University of Utah, said Sanders could compete at the next level.
"Football means so much to this kid," Richmond said. "He could play either fullback or linebacker, but he deserves a shot."
Murray senior Derick Sanders rushed for 500 yards, finished with more than 215 yards receiving and recorded more than 100 tackles his senior year. Sanders played behind an offensive line that featured five players who never had played varsity football.
First-year Murray football coach Mike Richmond said Sanders' impact on the Murray program will be felt for a number of years. "He set the example in the weight room, he gave the pregame speech and really went out of his way to make sure the freshmen had a good football experience."