Barry Sanders is one of the greatest players ever to put on football pads.
He was not, however, someone who had recruiters slobbering all over him while he was in high school.
Sanders was an under-the-radar high school recruit. OSU assistant coach George Walstad stumbled onto Sanders in Wichita, Kansas, while recruiting a more highly regarded high school teamate, Joel Fry.
Walstad and OSU running backs coach George Shimek visited Sanders’ high school in 1985. While Walstad talked with the coaching staff, Shimek watched film of Sanders — but he didn’t have to watch long. Shimek knew immediately that the Cowboys would be crazy if they failed to extend a scholarship offer to Sanders.
“I think when Shimek and Walstad were up at Sanders’ high school, there was a game film where they kind of featured Sanders as a wingback on a counter play and it opened your eyes a little bit,” former head coach Pat Jones said.
The only other major colleges to recruit Sanders were Tulsa and Iowa State. Sanders likely would have had additional suitors if more eyes had been exposed to his film, but YouTube did not exist in the 1980s. The only way to see Sanders’ highlights was to have a physical copy of the film. The film “disappeared” after Walstad and Shimek’s visit. The disappearance wasn’t mysterious. It was intentional.
“Shimek took the film and brought it back with him,” Jones said. “They might have told (the high school coaches) they were bringing it back to show me and then just kept it or something.”
All’s fair in love, war and football recruiting. Sanders signed a letter of intent with OSU and set an NCAA single-season rushing record on his way to the 1988 Heisman Trophy.
Emmitt Smith is nowhere on the list, but Barry Sanders is — a rare win for Detroit in these type of national lists.
GQ this week came out with a special issue, listing the 50 greatest living athletes, and Sanders, the legendary Lions running back, was among the group, while Smith, his peer with the Dallas Cowboys, didn’t make the cut.
GQ writes: “You can argue all day about who is the greatest running back in history, but you sure as hell can’t argue which one was the most fun to watch. It’s Barry. It will always be Barry.”
Sanders, Jim Brown and two-sport star Bo Jackson were the running backs to make the top 50, a list that, no surprise, was led by Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James.
Former Lakers and Michigan State great Earvin “Magic” Johnson also made the list, as did short-time Piston Allen Iverson. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, a long-time staple in Ann Arbor during his exhaustive training days, also was honored.
From the baseball world, Angels star Mike Trout was among the top 50, while his frequent MVP foe, Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera, was not.