His East Tennessee State football team needs to regain its mojo, something it lost early in the season, perhaps during an overtime loss to VMI.
“Momentum’s a powerful thing,” Sanders said Saturday after a season-ending 38-0 loss to Vanderbilt dropped his team’s record to 3-9.
Six of the nine losses were by seven points or less and a more confident team would have won at least its fair share of them. Instead, a year after winning six Southern Conference games by a field goal or less to share the league championship, the Bucs forgot how to win.
“Last year we had some good things happen and the team started believing and we got some momentum,” Sanders said. “This year’s team had to basically suck it up and get ready to go play again. That’s one thing they did. They kept playing. They competed and played hard even though we didn’t get the results we wanted nine times.
“It wears on you and it takes a lot of character and a lot of integrity to just keep going out there and laying it on the line.”
Sanders came to ETSU with the reputation as being somewhat of a quarterback whisperer, and that position was in a state of flux since the start of preseason camp.
Austin Herink graduated from last year’s team and Logan Marchi transferred to Sacred Heart, where he threw for 19 touchdowns in nine games before being injured.
Sanders brought in transfers Cade Weldon from Miami and Chance Thrasher from Coastal Carolina. Weldon was going to be the starter before he suffered a season-ending injury. That left the job to Thrasher, who was hurt in the opener at Appalachian State.
Red-shirt sophomore Trey Mitchell took over and kept the job for the rest of the year, although he was relieved by freshman Tyler Riddell in four games.
Throw in Cameron Lewis leaving the team after the coaching staff asked him to play receiver when he wasn’t getting much playing time at quarterback and the Bucs were adjusting on the fly.
“There’s no question, all in all we have to get better quarterback play for the team we have,” Sanders said. “Now, if you have a bunch of great receivers and a great defense and you have great backs, you’d be able to get by with what we got this year. Obviously we’re not there yet.”
There will be plenty of competition at the position next year if Weldon is healthy with Mitchell and Riddell back and a local hero, David Crockett’s prolific passer Cade Larkins, joining the fold.
If the Bucs do indeed turn things around, Quay Holmes will be one of the main reasons. The running back is more than halfway to breaking the school’s career rushing record after gaining 1,144 yards this season.
“I definitely think the future’s bright for us,” Holmes said. “We faced a lot of adversity this year and for the most part we kept the games close. Next year, we just have to put all the pieces together.”