Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
Last season was a proving year for Talon Sanders, who flashed plenty of potential on the practice fields. The only question was could he stay healthy after an injury had sidelined him most of his sophomore year.
“I knew I should have been out there my sophomore year,” Sanders said, “whether I was starting or second-team. Injuries limited me. It took me time to get to full speed.”
Roswell would need him and his thump after losing 10 starters on the defensive side of the ball. As defensive coordinator, Art Bolaños said Roswell was replacing two corners and a free safety from the previous state championship team.
In their first three games, Roswell played seven kids through the secondary. The Coyotes were trying to find chemistry and it finally came together in the fourth game of the season against Los Lunas.
“Talon (Sanders) was a guy who held that group together,” Bolaños said. “Talon was a tremendous factor in our secondary, playing better each game. He led by example and did a phenomenal job communicating in the secondary.”
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In his junior year as a first-time starter, Sanders came up big. Not only was he recognized for his fierce play at the free safety position, but Sanders became an enforcer when teams tried to run the ball. Sanders proved he could stay healthy as the season went on.
When opponents tried to run the ball on the young Coyote defense, Sanders played the run with power and force. He often came up in a blur, filling running lanes with an ump to send opposing running backs backward for no gain. By the end of the third quarter, he had opponents looking to avoid him.
Big Play Sanders
Sanders proved he was ready to carry on the proud tradition other Coyote defensive backs such as Brandon Perez, Jasia Reese, Joel Sanchez and Dominic Nava had set before him.
Proving he was an all-around free safety, Sanders showed he could cover the intermediate passing game as well as the deep pass. It didn’t take long for rival Artesia to become aware of Sanders’ all-around game.
Sanders made his presence felt late in the first quarter when Artesia was moving the ball deep in Roswell’s territory. Sanders was reading the eyes of Bulldogs’ all-state quarterback Clay Houghtaling as he tried to throw a pass to Braxton McDonald. Sanders ended up stepping in front of Braxton to intercept the ball and end the scoring drive.
Not only did Sanders intercept that pass, but had three on the night. His play would leave Bulldogs’ coach Rex Henderson shaking his head after losing 48-28 at the Wool Bowl.
“The Artesia game stood out to me,” Bolaños said. “That’s always an exciting game for everyone. Talon’s preparation against Artesia was better than any player I’ve ever seen. Talon had the defensive game plan down just as well as the defensive coaches did. It showed, he had three interceptions that game and several other big plays.”
According to Sanders, his three interceptions might have been his best game of the year statistically, but it was far from his best game of the year. Sanders said the championship game against Los Lunas was his best game of the season. He made several big hits to stop drives and get the ball back for the Coyotes. Sanders recalls Los Lunas having the ball fourth and goal at the Roswell 5-yard line.
Sanders lined up over the slot receiver, with the Los Lunas’ receiver running an out; Sanders deflected the pass, giving it back to Roswell on downs. The Coyotes were able to run the ball and take time off the clock. That defensive stand would help Roswell repeat as champions with a 25-19 victory.
“Coach Lynn is not big on statistics,” Sanders said. “When you go into that program, it is all about the win. I could not make an interception all game, but I could make a game-saving tackle and that would be my best game.”
Sanders showed what a difference a year can make. He went from playing very little as a sophomore to making all-state as a junior, to receiving a scholarship heading into his senior year.
Approaching his senior year, Sanders on Wednesday, signed a National Letter of Intent to continue his playing career for the Eastern New Mexico Greyhounds. ENMU likes the way that Sanders moves and said he would fit in well with their defensive scheme.
“It feels good that I don’t have to worry about school anymore,” Sanders said, “my mom doesn’t have to worry about school anymore. I know what I’m doing after high school and I have a place to go. It’s a stress reliever, and I can know what my mom and dad talked about ENMU.”
After being offered, it was a no-brainer for Talon Sanders, whose ENMU roots run deep. His dad, Robert McCaskill, played basketball for the ‘Hounds, and his mother, Maegan Sanders, was an athletic trainer before both graduated.
Talon Sanders says all the hard work he has put in will help him when he goes to college. For the Coyotes it all starts with head coach Jeff Lynn. Talon Sanders says they work so hard in practice. He knows his team must work hard because normally, they are not the biggest team on the field Friday nights.
“One thing, we know when we get a kid out of Roswell High,” Eastern New Mexico football coach Kelley Lee said. “Coach Lynn is going to make sure his kids are tough as nails, and we got one here with Talon (Sanders). He is a safety that has all the tools and has made plays all over the field for the two-time defending state champion Coyotes. We are looking forward to Talon bringing that championship DNA to us.”
“It’s cool being a two-time champion,” Talon Sanders said, “but we are champions on the practice field, too. We work hard and bust our butts. We deserve to go around and say we are champions. Even the managers and water boys deserve to call themselves champions because of how hard they work. The word championship doesn’t really mean anything, it’s more than a word, or trophy when you work as hard as we do.”
Roswell has a chance to three-peat if they can play this year. Because Talon Sanders is unselfish, he said he would like for his teammates that have not experienced championship Saturday to have those same feelings.
When Talon Sanders is done playing football, he would like to be a coach. He said he feels a connection with Roswell defensive coordinator Bolaños. During the game, Talon Sanders said he can look at him on the sidelines and Bolaños will point out something to help him make a play.
“Coach Bolaños pushes us to work really hard,” Talon Sanders said. “He’s a good man himself. Coach Lynn is one of those dudes that can go somewhere and transform a program, the same way he did with us. He could walk into your school and transform your football team. I don’t know him personally, but he seems like one of those coaches that won’t stop until he figures it out. He’s going to stay up all night until he figures out how to beat this person or win the game. That’s what he seems like to me. I don’t know him personally; I know him as a coach and he’s a great coach.”
Bolaños said he expects Talon Sanders to pick up where he left off last year when they get back on the field this season. Talon Sanders has an unquenchable work ethic, and he works just as hard in the classroom as he does on the field.
“I think Talon is the guy,” Coyotes’ head coach Jeff Lynn said, “we’re grateful for the Eastern offer, but he’s the kind of guy that had he played, he’d have multiple offers. It was one of those things where he was overshadowed by some of those kids last year. This was the year to put himself in a position and he didn’t get that opportunity, and that’s a shame. He’s a very talented kid, I’m excited to see what he does moving forward.”
Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or firstname.lastname@example.org.