Will Robert Sands Become West Virginia's Best Safety of All Time?

Jeff Woollard@JeffWoollardCorrespondent IIMarch 30, 2010

There is no doubt that sophomore Robert Sands elevated his level of play in 2009. But will Sands—listed as 6’6”, 215-lbs.—become the best safety to have ever played at WVU?

To put that question into the proper perspective, one must decide who currently represents the best safety to have ever worn a WVU uniform to date.

In my opinion, Tom Pridemore is unquestionably the best safety to have ever strapped on a WVU helmet. Pridemore was a 6’0”, 180-lb. safety for WVU.

Pridemore was born in Oak Hill, West Virginia on April 29, 1956.

Pridemore played three seasons for the Mountaineers, '75 through '77. His first season, '75, was Bobby Bowden’s final season as head coach of the WVU football team.

In each of Pridemore’s three seasons, he intercepted a pass and returned it over 80 yards. In 1977, Pridemore returned a Penn State interception 100 yards for a touchdown to tie an NCAA record.

Tom Pridemore owned the WVU secondary like none before or since.

What set Pridemore apart was his grit and determination. In 1974, Pridemore won the WV state hurdles championship despite knocking down every hurdle. Pridemore simply refused to quit.

Another example of Pridemore’s determination came in the California game in 1975. With WVU leading 14-10, Wesley Walker caught a pass that seemed to be an easy catch-and-run for a touchdown. Pridemore would not allow it; he caught Walker from behind for a 14-yard gain. WVU went on to win 28-10.

Bowden stated after the game, “That was just pure pride, guts, and determination. He just put his head down and went after their guy .”

For the record, Pridemore wore No. 22; Robert Sands wears No. 2.

Using Pridemore as a benchmark, how does Sands’ sophomore season compare to Pridemore’s sophomore season?

Bowden’s ‘75 WVU football team represented Pridemore’s sophomore season. The Mountaineers’ record was 9-3.

Bill Stewart’s ‘09 WVU football team represented Sands’ sophomore season. The Mountaineers’ record was 9-4.

The ‘75 team played NC State in the Peach Bowl and won. The ‘09 team played Bowden’s Florida State team in the Gator Bowl and lost.

Both the ‘75 and ‘09 WVU football teams beat Pitt with last-second field goals—field goals provided by first-year unproven kickers: Bill McKenzie for the ‘75 team and Tyler Bitancurt for the ‘09 team.

Pridemore had five interceptions to go along with 82 tackles his sophomore season; 30 of those tackles were solo. Pridemore returned those five interceptions for a total of 132 yards and one touchdown.

Sands had five interceptions to go along with 65 tackles his sophomore season; 37 of those tackles were solo. Sands returned those five interceptions for a total of nine yards.

Robert Sands’ sophomore season compares favorably with Tom Pridemore‘s. Although Pridemore holds the edge, the comparison is not complete.

It will be Sands’ junior and senior campaigns that will ultimately answer the question.

Pridemore’s junior and senior teams posted matching 5-6 records. WVU football, as a team, simply did not play to the level of their star safety.

I'm a lifelong Mountaineer football fan, and Tom Pridemore is one of my favorite players of all time. Even in losses, it was worth watching Pridemore play. The determination Pridemore brought to each play was special.

The 2009 season gave Mountaineers fans a taste of the potential Robert Sands possesses—a potential that suggests Sands will eclipse Pridemore as the best WVU safety of all time.

Time will tell the tale.

Pay close attention, Mountaineer fans—safeties of the caliber mentioned do not come around often.