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By LARRY VAUGHT
He never wanted to admit it last season, but finally Raymond Sanders realizes that he was never healthy — even when he thought he was.
“I don’t think I was 100 percent one game all season,” said Sanders, a junior running back. “I was not as healthy as I am now all of last season.
“I was never really healthy. I had my first surgery in the summer and I rushed that back and then I came back the second time. I just hated being off the field, so I kept rushing instead of taking my time and making sure I was 100 percent healthy. The trainers did a great job this offseason and coach Rock (Oliver) with his strength and conditioning program got me back where I feel 100 percent every day now and I came out of the spring 100 percent.”
That feeling has made Sanders a lot better than he was last season.
“I am able to be quick and explosive at this weight now. I mean I wasn’t able to make those cuts on instincts and different things like that because of my injuries last year,” Sanders said. “Now that I am stronger and faster and able to hold up on my knees. I can explode more and run through more tackles and go out and make a lot more plays. I just have to keep improving and getting stronger and never be satisfied.”
Sanders admits 2011 was “frustrating” for him after he seemed set to make a big impact following his freshman season.
“A lot of people were questioning if I was a real SEC back. I just use that as motivation and now turn that into something that drives me and keeps me going,” the Georgia native said. “Everything I have to do, I am just coming out here to prove I can help this team and I am a good teammate. Everyone knows I will work hard and keep pushing no matter what.”
Sanders heard the criticism and questions last year.
“When you look at it, being human it definitely hurts. I was out for a while. I had to ice my knees. Now it has paid off for motivation. Now that I am healthy, I don’t have to do the things I did when my knees hurt me,” Sanders said. “It was a tough time for me all of last season. I definitely am in for a change and ready to take on this blessing of playing this game again after those surgeries.”
Sanders could also be a big motivational help for freshman Josh Clemons, who was off to a big start last year before injuring his kneeand not playing again. Clemons also missed spring practice.
“Josh watched us practice all spring and paid attention mentally. He is still being part of the game. He is still a young guy and he should be ready,” Sanders said. “This could be a big part in his development. I feel like he can understand the offense and that he is able to see first hand everything going on from how his linemen like to block on this play. Different things like that and then still knowing what is on his plate. What his rules are, how the offense works. He is able to take that and grasp that first hand and also get in the film room and just keep working. That is one thing that we are going to keep doing.
“That is how I handled being injured. It is a hard thing. When you love football, that is one way you can stay into the game. You stay there and watch. If nothing else, you have nothing to do and have to find a way to be part of game and part of the team,” Sanders said.
Sanders says all the Cats have extra motivation as they prepared to play at Louisville Sept. XX to open the season. Kentucky finished 5-7 last year and is being picked to finish last in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division and win no more than four games by fans and media analysts.
“We are going to use that to motivate us when people write us off,” Sanders said. “We try to tune it out, but the media is everywhere. I am not going to lie. We try to tune it out. But you have to keep pushing teammates and say, ‘Hey, they told you that you can’t do this and that. What are you going to do about it on the field?’
“That’s how you get better and make your teammates compete and keep improving. That is one thing we want to do as a team and make sure everyone is on the same page and keep working toward winning. We want to prove we are a lot better than people think.”