FAYETTEVILLE — True freshman running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders is coming off his best game in an Arkansas uniform.
In a 52-51 loss to Ole Miss on Saturday, Sanders carried 17 times for 139 yards to lead all the running backs for both teams in rushing. For the season, Sanders is second on the team in rushing with 54 attempts for 324 yards and a touchdown. He also has caught four passes for 48 yards and returned a kickoff 19 yards. Sanders was asked following Tuesday’s practice if he was surprised at his performance against top teams and if not why?
“Not really,” Sanders said. “Because when it comes down to it it’s like our practice. Like I was saying if you’re gonna execute in practice it’s going to show in the game.”
Sanders arrived at Arkansas in January. How has it been at Arkansas since that time and now that the season has started?
“It’s actually good,” Sanders said. “Starting practice I know how you execute in practice is going to show in a game. So I believe in that. That’s with any sport and anything you do.”
Sanders and the Hogs return to Reynolds Razorback Stadium on a two-game losing streak. The Hogs were undefeated in September, but have lost road games at Georgia and Ole Miss this month. Auburn comes to town this week to face the Hogs and Sanders is hoping for a Texas-like crowd.
“I feel like it was a big impact,” Sanders said of the crowd for Texas. “So by having people with us being there, I feel like we play a little better having a better crowd. I know we didn’t have a crowd like that last year, but I feel like that crowd that Texas game was pretty good. I feel like it comes a lot with the crowd.”
Sanders did a little bit of everything at Rockledge (Fla.) High School as a senior while playing running back, wide receiver and linebacker. As a senior, Sanders rushed for 317 yards and four touchdowns while catching 24 passes for 391 yards and four touchdowns. He also returned kicks for 237 yards and one touchdown. He had offers from schools all over the country including Florida. Why Arkansas?
“Well definitely I say I wanted to get out of Florida,” Sanders said. “Of course I had the Florida schools, but I say mainly knowing Coach Pittman was coming here. I was a receiver so I was messing with Coach Stepp. Of course he left, but at the end of the day I feel i wanted to go a program and change a program. Of course one player can’t do it all, but I feel like coming here made me a better player on the field and off the field. Talking to the coaches and having help here. So I picked here. I trusted Coach Pittman, Coach Stepp and all the other coaches.”
Sanders said he’s weighing 223 or 224 right now after coming in at 207. Sanders talked about some things he was expected to do at wide receiver have helped him at running back.
“Actually good,” Sanders said. “Coming in here as a receiver it was a little different changing to the running back position. I feel like it’s actually better in the backfield blocking because outside doing the receiver job — at outside receiver or inside receiver — you’ve got to go to the man and meet him. I feel like in the backfield you can wait then attack. In the backfield I feel like it’s way better than it is at receiver.
“I feel like I’ve got some more stuff to work on, like pass pro and catching the ball — I feel like I catch the ball good, but on certain plays and certain things I feel like I can do more and give more, and that’s with everything I do.”
Sanders knows the Hogs have to put the last two games behind them and concentrate on Auburn this week.
“With that happening, I feel like I’ve just got to keep going,” Sanders said. “The older guys here, definitely in the running back room, I feel like they’re pushing me more and my coach is pushing me more, so with my coach doing that, it’s making me go harder. With that game, it’s only up from here. By any means I feel like I have to go harder no matter what it is when it comes down to it.”
Arkansas and Auburn will kickoff at 11 a.m. on Saturday and televised on CBS.