Adan Sanders had a hunch that he might be on to something in his newfound football career in just his sophomore year of high school.
All it took was two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in one season, but there was a slight dilemma that came with it: Sanders was doing this all with a broken arm for the Trivium Preparatory Academy Knights out of Goodyear.
While playing through the injury, it was the first time he realized he was a pretty good football player.
Maybe, he thought, he was good enough to continue to play in college.
After a strong senior season with the Knights, Sanders announced his commitment to Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon, to play Division III football.
The 6-foot-2 wide receiver entered his senior campaign with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. For starters, he had no offers to play in college after a junior season in which he found the end zone seven times in eight games, establishing himself as a catalyst for the Knights’ offense.
Second, the high school sports environment may have been a bit of a hindrance in the recruiting process.
They play eight-man football due to Trivium Prep’s smaller enrollment, which doesn’t necessarily bode well for athletes looking to play at the next level.
But Sanders persisted and let his play speak for himself.
He racked up 20 touchdowns while playing both sides of the ball in his final year with the Knights. On offense, he hauled in 47 receptions for 738 yards. He averaged 82 yards per game versus the 56.8 YPG he posted his junior season.
“A lot of small schools were looking at me, but my senior season probably helped me the most. I had no offers (last year),” he said.
To Sanders’ surprise, Linfield expressed interest first.
“They made me feel like I’m worth something, like I’m not just a number in a system.”
It wasn’t a surprise that a college was finally recruiting Sanders. It was more of who was recruiting him that really caught his attention.
The Wildcats are coming off a 2017 season in which they went 9-2. They’ve posted a winning record in every year since their inaugural season in 1998.
Just five years ago, Sanders, who was a baseball player before an injury, stumbled upon football because it was a way to meet new friends in his first year at Trivium Prep.
“I was just playing football to meet new people at my new school, kind of get the anger out because I wasn’t really happy about going to a new school,” he said. “Then, it just kind of happened. I was like, ‘You know what? I’m OK at football so let’s just keep going with this.’”
Now, he said, he’s the first athlete from Trivium Prep to play in college, on a mission to make an impression as a freshman in McMinnville.
Perhaps the notion of being overshadowed because of a small high school in which he played at will serve as an extra dose of motivation.
“I think I’ll show up and give them something that’s more than what they recruited.”