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September 22, 2010

Deion Sanders' son has his father's spirit, skills

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He's a multi-sport athlete ... just like his dad.

And the facial resemblance - with a smile that can light up a room - is there. As is the quickness and the sinewy but deceptively strong body.

But Flower Mound (Texas) Marcus football coach Bryan Erwin really saw how much Deion Sanders Jr. was like his famous father on a broken play during a spring scrimmage vs. Irving (Texas) High.

It was a play-action pass play. Sanders - new to the quarterback position - felt pressure from the backside as he set to throw. So he reversed field, breaking one tackle and outrunning everyone else en route to a 25-yard gain.

"That's just the type of athleticism that he has," Erwin said. "If he doesn't like what he sees, he's going to take off, and we give him freedom to do that. He's got the green light, and that's where he's at his best."

Where he's at now appears to be best for everyone.

Deion Sanders Jr, wasn't planning on playing quarterback - which, oddly enough, is where his dad played in high school. And he wasn't planning on playing at Marcus - he transferred there midway through his sophomore season.

The position and school switch, however, couldn't have worked out better.

Wearing his dad's college jersey No. 2, Sanders Jr. - a 16-year-old junior, has recorded big plays from the QB position since the season began.

During Week One against Garland (Texas) High, Sanders completed just two of his three passes, but one went for a 30-yard touchdown. During Week Two against Grapevine, he scored on a 58-yard run.

Sanders' quickness combined with the rugged running of backs Rufus Mason and Dagan Newsome has helped Marcus win its first three games by a combined total of 124-40.

With Sanders running the show - and Mason and Newsome just plain running wild - Marcus has the potential to better last year's finish, when its 7-4 team lost to Cedar Hill (Texas) High, 41-17, during the Class 5A Division Region I area-round game at Cowboys Stadium.

It's the school, interestingly enough, that Sanders played on last year.

*****

Marcus High welcomed a former foe when Sanders transferred in last January.

And while some of his teammates gave him grief about playing special teams for Cedar Hill during that playoff victory weeks before, few had to tell him their name.

Sanders may have been a new student, but he was an old buddy.

Sanders went to elementary school in Flower Mound with many of his current classmates.

"They don't look at me as (Deion Sanders') son," he said. "They just look at me as their friend."

After grade school, Sanders moved to the Cedar Hill area and attended Trinity Christian Junior High because of its strong academics. Seeking a higher level of sports competition, he enrolled at Cedar Hill for his freshman and sophomore year.

On the varsity squad, Cedar Hill coach Joey McGuire employed the then-sophomore Sanders as a return specialist and backup wide receiver. He gained 57 yards on six carries off Jet Sweep plays.

McGuire knew he was frustrated, but Sanders worked hard and did not complain or press for more playing time. The coach lavished praise on Sanders, who would have started for him at wide receiver this year had he not transferred.

"He is a great kid," McGuire said. "It was a great a move for them from the standpoint that Coach Erwin over at Flower Mound Marcus - he's one of my good friends and does a great job."

According to his father, Sanders Jr. did not necessarily seek out QB opportunities but wanted more touches than he received at Cedar Hill.

"It was a great program, but he started thinking about, 'Dad, they got me playing receiver, and they don't throw the ball,'" Sanders Sr. said. "His mother was moving anyway back to the other side of town."

Sanders Jr. lives with his mother, Carolyn Chambers, who is divorced from Sanders Sr., and declined an interview request. Their son, though, discussed the return to Flower Mound.

"It was just her whole idea of moving back out here," Sanders Jr. said. "She has a lot of friends over here, and my cousin went to Marcus High."

The change of locale also worked out for the elder Sanders, who has three children - Shilo, Shedeur and Shelomi - with his second wife, Pilar Biggers. After living an hour away from him at Cedar Hill, he resides 15 to 20 minutes away from his oldest son and he spends one full day with him each week.

*****

Despite his athleticism, Sanders remains a work in progress because of his inexperience at quarterback, a position he has not played since junior high.

"From a quarterback development standpoint, he's a little bit behind," Erwin said. "We're playing catch up with our quarterback skills, but he's got all the other intangibles."

Those intangibles include a charismatic personality and an ever-present smile, which Erwin said reminds him of his father. The Marcus players gravitate toward the younger version.

"He's the leader," Erwin said. "He's got that 'it' factor - that thing you look for in a quarterback."

Sanders Sr. has emphasized the importance of leadership to his son. He advised him to always congratulate his linemen and provide encouragement in the huddle. ("I'm coming right over your side and I believe in you.")

But much of Sanders Jr.'s leadership is instinctive not ingrained. His grade school report cards said he had a tendency to take control of the class.

"He's been that way since he was a kid," his dad said. "He's always been like that. He just has that in him."

From the physical perspective, the 16-year-old's arm strength remains good not great. Sanders never will be a classic dropback passer. His passing, however, continues to improve as he works on his throwing mechanics.

"He's not a guy that's going to sit back there in the pocket all night and throw a ball 25, 30 yards down the field," Erwin said. "He's accurate in what we ask him to do."

And Sanders is the perfect fit for Marcus' run-based offense because of his quick feet and ability to throw on the move. He scrambles off bootlegs, play-action fakes and sprint outs.

Thus far, Sanders has completed 7-of-13 passes for 112 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions and rushed 13 times for 75 yards and a touchdown.

Though Sanders adeptly runs the Marcus offense, Erwin said the 5-7, 170-pounder is too small to play quarterback on the next level and that he will be a slot receiver or cornerback at a Division-I school.

The junior, who also plays baseball and basketball, has neither a college list nor any preferences regarding geography, coaches, atmosphere, etc. He considered attending camp last year at LSU but ultimately declined because his father could instruct him as well as the college coaches.

Sanders Sr., arguably Florida State's most famous former player, has not pushed him toward that school.

"I'm not that kind of dad," he said. "I'm not going to force that on him. I want him to be comfortable and his mother comfortable with where he decides to go."

*****

Deion Sanders and his oldest son are close.

Sanders goes to all of his games and several practices each week. He sends him an inspirational text message at 6:30 each morning and several more throughout the day.

Considering he was one of the NFL's all-time greats - not to mention a pro baseball player, too - it only goes to figure that he would have some athletic tips, too.

To prepare him for both the next level and high school, father and son perform two-a-day, summer workouts at their Prosper, Texas house, which has a sand pit and football field in the backyard and a weight room below Deion Jr.' s bedroom.

During the morning they lift weights and condition. During the evening they do drills, throw passes and study film.

"That's when we really get it," Sanders Sr. said. "He's gotta go out there and work his butt off."

But as close as they are, there is one source of contention: Who would win a race between them?

"We always talk junk about that," Deion Sanders Sr. said. "But he knows he can't (beat me)."

Not that he's ever been given the chance.

Those workouts have never included a mano-a-mano sprint, which would settle the trash talk once and for all.

"We never race, but I think if we did, I would win," Sanders Jr. said. "I'm way faster."

Supremely confident ... just like his dad.

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