Barry Sanders Jr., the son of NFL legend Barry Sanders, is making a case for the classic saying, "like father, like son." Sanders Jr. is one of the nation's top rated running backs in the high school class of 2012 and has the scholarship offers to prove it.
The Heritage Hall High School junior has a lot to learn if he wants to have college or professional careers that resemble those of his legendary father, but if early indications mean anything, then he is well on his way.
According to reports, the younger Sanders has narrowed his college choices down to four schools. This list is comprised of UCLA, Florida State, Alabama, and his father's alma mater, Oklahoma State.
Should Sanders Jr. follow in his Heisman-winning father's footsteps at Oklahoma State or try to play for one of the nation's best coaches at Alabama? Let's break down the choices and rank his options.
Florida State is an interesting inclusion on his list, so it can only be assumed that Sanders feels a real connection with the Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher.
Florida State is a historic program that has been on the back burner in recent years due to a slump in production. Formerly a perennial national title contender, the Seminoles have failed to win a BCS bowl since their last National Championship following the 1999 season.
While the Seminoles were highly ranked entering the 2010 season, a thrashing at the hands of Oklahoma has them currently sitting at No. 23 in the polls. Fisher has received high marks thus far and looks to be turning the program around, but does Sanders Jr. really want to play for a team that is only the third best in its own state?
Sanders Jr. unquestionably has talent and could help reclaim the dominance that Florida State has lost since the turn of the century, but it may not be the best place for a recruit who will already be facing a high level of scrutiny.
Sanders Jr. will have enough media and fanfare surrounding him without being responsible for reclaiming the past glory of a fallen college football giant.
UCLA, like Florida State, is another school that simply hasn't been very good in recent years. With the rise of Oregon and Stanford to go with USC, the Pac-10 has become a tougher conference to win.
If Sanders Jr. is looking for a shot at national titles, UCLA is not the place to go. Their conference is too difficult and although new head coach Rick Neuheisel has been improving the program, the Bruins still have a long way to go.
Another issue with playing in the Pac-10 is national exposure. If Sanders Jr. is trying to keep a low profile, then maybe UCLA would be a good fit. However, like most college football players, Sanders Jr. probably dreams of following his father's footsteps and playing in the NFL. The unfortunate fact is that only the country's best teams get national exposure and this could certainly hurt his draft stock.
Why then is UCLA ranked ahead of FSU? Because the Pac-10 has been better than the ACC as of late. Teams like Oregon and Stanford are showing more and more that the Pac-10 is ready to compete with the power conferences from top to bottom in the standings. Long gone are the days when USC's conference schedule was a cake walk on the way to another Rose Bowl or National Title game.
UCLA still is not the best fit for Sanders Jr. but at least playing in the revitalized Pac-10 would expose him to some of the most competitive, and often high scoring, football in the country.
The decision whether or not to play for his father's Cowboys is probably a difficult one for the young running back. To play for them would be like a dream come true in many respects—what young boy doesn't grow up wanting to be just like his father, especially when your father is Barry Sanders.
The issues arise, however, when the realization sets in that if Sanders Jr. follows his father's path, the comparisons will be endless and the pressure burdensome.
The team, the conference, the stadium, and the opponents will all be the same. The expectations will be the same, and therein lies the problem—while very talented, Barry Sanders Jr. is not his father. He may be better, worse, or equally talented as his father, but the issue at Oklahoma State will not be how good Barry Sanders Jr. is, but instead how much does he resemble his father.
Sanders Jr. says his family is not pressuring him in any direction, and hopefully this is true. It would be a shame to see a talented young athlete have to deal with monstrous expectations unless that was the path that he truly wanted to take.
Who knows, Sanders Jr. may choose Oklahoma State and could certainly thrive in the situation, but evaluating the issue at the moment leads to the conclusion that very little can be gained by following his father. However the expectations and pressures associated with such a move could cost him dearly in the long run.
Every bad game will be severely scrutinized. Every fumble, every missed cut, and every dropped pass will be run on SportsCenter the next morning right next to a clip of his father making that very same play. Even if his playing style is simply different, there is a good chance he will disappoint Cowboy's fans, who will be waiting for the reincarnation of his father.
Another factor has to be that the Cowboys are not known for their running attack and the best back to come out of Oklahoma State since the elder Sanders is NFL free agent Tatum Bell. Although Sanders Jr. in a Cowboys uniform would be a great news story, chances are its not the best fit for him.
Like so many other lists in recent years, the Alabama Crimson Tide should be at the top of the list of schools for Barry Sanders Jr. The chance to play for Alabama is not something that should be sacrificed, even for a chance to follow in his father's footsteps. Alabama is currently among the nation's top college football programs and looks poised to stay there for quite some time.
The biggest reason he should go to Alabama is head coach Nick Saban. Saban is a college football genius who brought a mediocre team into National Title contention in the blink of an eye. He simply gets the most out of his players. Also, he favors the running game and could do wonders for the development of Sanders Jr. as both a college player and hopefully future NFL star.
A second reason to choose Alabama is timing. Mark Ingram will soon be gone and when Sanders Jr. is entering as a freshman in the 2013 season, it will be sophomore Trent Richardson's senior season. The opportunity to learn behind a back, especially one who has already proven to be a star when called upon, would increase Sanders Jr.'s development exponentially. It would give him a full season to get a handle on the offense, as well as the speed and physicality of the SEC game, before taking a more central role in his sophomore year.
If the chance to play for one of the nation's best coaches, at a historically and currently dominant school was not appealing enough, playing for Alabama has one more major benefit. Sanders Jr. would likely have four legitimate chances at something his father never accomplished, winning a National Championship.If Sanders Jr. could win a championship, it would go a long way in differentiating him from his father, allowing him to be judged in his own right.
In case you haven't seen him play yet, here is Sanders Jr.'s highlight reel. He looks electrifying.