By Rick White
NFL scouts starting calling about Cale Sanders after a junior season at Eastern New Mexico University in which he blossomed into one of the top wide receivers and punt returners in the Lone Star Conference.
That was two years and two major surgeries ago.
Undaunted by his run of tough luck and out of college eligibility, the speedy Roswell Goddard product is hoping to catch on with an NFL team as a free agent once he fully recovers from surgery in January to repair a hernia in his groin area.
“It’s been pretty frustrating,” said Sanders, who caught 48 passes for 980 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior and added three TDs on punt returns. “But I’ve got to keep trying. Things happen for a reason, I guess.”
He said doctors had to reattach his abductor muscles in a ligament in one of his legs.
NFL teams are still interested in the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Sanders even though he played sparingly last year after sitting out 2002 while recovering from a torn pectoral muscle.
Eastern New Mexico coach Bud Elliott, who said he has sent between 50 to 55 players to the NFL in his 36 years in coaching, believes Sanders has the physical skills and mental toughness to make it in the pros.
Elliott said most NFL teams have checked on Sanders’ status since he was injured two years ago and have at least seen film of him.
“The fact that he can run, has great hands and is an excellent return man … I think makes him a pretty good candidate,” Elliott said.
The Greyhounds coach said Sanders has legitimate 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash, which is fast even for a wide receiver.
Sanders said he planned to watch the NFL draft on Saturday and Sunday in an effort to gage where he might have his best chance to catch on with a team.
Sanders, who said he’d be willing to play in the CFL or NFL Europe, is hoping he can get healthy in time of the start of training camps.
He’s quietly confident he can play in the NFL, if he can get a break.
“It’s a big jump,” Sanders said. “Those guys up there are freaks of nature. It’s kind of flattering when you’re seen as that kind of athlete.”
Sanders caught 34 passes for 681 years and six TDs in his first two years before becoming Eastern’s top offensive threat in 2001.
“The last two years he played in the league he was pretty stinking good,” Elliott said.
Defensive back Conrad Hamilton of Alamogordo was the last Eastern player drafted. He went on to play five seasons with the New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons.