BOWLING GREEN - Every year since Gregg Brandon became the coach at Bowling Green State University, he has tried to improve on staying away from recruiting players who might have the skills but get a less than desirable rap.
However, he doesn't always have that option and has to take a chance.
"I want to recruit character first," Brandon said. "But with the way the rules are today, you don't get a lot of opportunities to find out what type of person the kid is."
BGSU receiver Steve Sanders is an example of why taking that chance is sometimes worth it. With the right opportunity and attitude, anyone can change - and Sanders has.
Sanders, a senior from East Cleveland, will play in his final home game on Tuesday night against the University of Toledo. After a rocky start to college, he has developed into a leader.
"I went from not knowing if I was going to make it through college to becoming a team captain," Sanders said.
Said Brandon: "He's really become a true role model, and kind of a poster child for this program."
BGSU didn't offer Sanders a scholarship until the summer before his freshman year in 2001, basing it on his tremendous size (6-foot-3, 197 pounds) and speed for a receiver. For much of Sanders' first two seasons with the Falcons, coaches wondered if they had made a mistake.
"He was not a program kid, very selfish, wasn't going to class, wasn't doing what he needed to do in the weight room, chirping a lot," Brandon said.
That added up to Sanders playing sparingly his redshirt freshman season, catching just two balls all year. He finished the 2002 season feeling frustrated and unsure about how he could help the team.
That winter, Sanders was introduced to two things that would forever alter his outlook on life.
First, his son, Armier, was born in February. Charles Sharon, fellow senior receiver and one of Sanders' best friends, said when that happened he could sense a new dedication in him.
"He knew what he had to do as a man to step up," Sharon said.
Also, Sanders attended church for the first time, finally accepting an invitation to go with teammate B.J. Lane, a senior running back. He found it was the perfect thing for him.
"I turned him down numerous times," Sanders said. "Then one day I went and wham, it was like the pastor was talking directly to me."
Sanders shared his new mindset with receivers coach Zach Azzanni, one of his confidants. Azzanni supported him in private and later, when Brandon inquired about Sanders, in public.
"I pulled Zach Azzanni aside, and said, 'What's his deal?' " Brandon said. "He said, [Sanders] has a new life. I said, he better deliver. And he did."
The next season Sanders made eight starts, and last year he started every game. After more than 40 receptions in each of the last two seasons, he has 52 catches for 780 yards this year.
Sanders leads the Falcons with 12 touchdown receptions, a career high. Against Ball State he had a touchdown reception to bring the Falcons from behind in the fourth quarter.
Although Sanders is like any receiver, confident, he aids the team in other ways than just catching passes.
His all-around skills put him on special teams play, and he is devoted to his role as captain, leading the Falcons onto the field each week clutching a toolbox, a symbol of the team "going to work."
"To be able to change 18 years of bad habits, it doesn't happen overnight. I think that's really a great credit to Steve, and his work ethic," Brandon said. "He just decided he wanted to do the things a Division I football player does to be successful. That's really exciting."
And worth it.
Contact Maureen Fulton at: email@example.com or 419-724-6160.