By LARRY VAUGHT
Raymond Sanders ran for 123 yards and one score in last week’s 34-3 victory over Samford. That increased the junior’s career rushing total to 1,024 yards in 28 games. Now he hopes to help lead Kentucky to a second straight win over Tennessee, something that has not happened since the 1976-77 seasons.
Question: Was it bittersweet personally to have such a big game in an easy win when the season has been so frustrating overall?
Sanders: “I am very grateful that we were able to send the seniors out that way. This team has fought through everything has been going. I am grateful with how we have fought together with these seniors. They are the ones who taught us to stay together and become a family and get a close bond. We are very grateful we won and want to continue and send seniors out with back to back wins.”
Question: Was there any talk last week about winning one for coach Joker Phillips in his final home game?
Sanders: “We established when he told us (he was being fired) that we were going to play hard for him, but him being the coach and person he is, he didn’t want any attention on him. He wanted the game to be about the seniors and told us it was their night, their game. He didn’t want it on him.”
Question: Does it hurt you a bit more knowing coach Phillips won’t be back since he not only recruited you, but he took you back this year when you had an off-field incident early in the season?
Sanders: “It does. He forgave me. A lot of these guys all forgave me and still respect me and expect me to be a leader. I am very grateful and blessed to still have this opportunity and still be a leader and be vocal to these young guys. It is tough, but like he said he will be fine and will keep moving forward and stay positive. He was the reason I am here. Kentucky jumped on me first and saw something in me before other schools came. I am very grateful that he was able to see that and they were able to offer me that scholarship before anybody else. Him being loyal to me helped me stay loyal to them.”
Question: How do you keep from getting caught up in coaching speculation?
Sanders: “You are going to talk about it. That’s human nature to talk about it. You don’t know what is going to happen, but you are going to talk about it. We don’t focus as it to let if affect us. We worry about staying close and winning out for Joker and winning out for the seniors. That is what we are pushing for. We want to finish this season first and then we will start to worry or whatever. All we can do is come to work. We are going to talk, but we have to come to work on the practice field and do this thing right for the seniors.”
Question: Wouldn’t anybody worry if they lost their boss/coach/leader?
Sanders: “It is hard not to worry. We haven’t finished this season yet, so we are obligated to this team and to this coaching staff. I am not going to say you don’t think about it and don’t know what is going to happen. That is always going to be in your mind. We are obligated to each other and promised each other we would finish strong and keep fighting for each other throughout the whole year and that is what we are pushing for.”
Question: What does it mean to you to now have over 1,000 yards rushing in your career?
Sanders: “It is a big deal because the offensive line did a great job. But my goal is to do that in one season. I am very grateful for it and it is a big deal. I had to improve and get better and in the offseason going to work to get 1,000 yards next year, but to know I have 1,000 yards rushing in my career is a big deal.”
Question: What would it mean to beat Tennessee for a second straight year?
Sanders: “It would be wonderful. Last year we didn’t have a quarterback and was able to beat those guys. To do it again in situation we are in, it would be great thing to do. That is what we want. Send these guys out with two wins over Tennessee back to back and let them have that on their resume and something to remember.”
Question: Since they have also had their coach fired and have a losing record, could Saturday’s game come down to which team plays with more pride?
Sanders: “It very well could. Most emotion, most energy. We have to come out and start fast and stay fast and finish strong. It will be a battle. Tennessee is our rival and they are not going to let us come in there on their Senior Day and walk over them. They have a great offense. We have to come ready to play and do what we can do and send our seniors out the right way.”