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The Next Great 88

By Lou Bouris
April 02, 2011

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Record breaking career at SMU.

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Warming up before playoff game against Baltimore.

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Side by side with a Steeler legend.

When most Steeler fans envision #88 in the Black and Gold making a spectacular sideline grab, or fearlessly going across the middle for a clutch reception in traffic, the image of the great Lynn Swann comes to mind. However, with the emergence of the Steelers ‘Young Money’ receiving crew, we might be witnessing the beginning of a new era of Steeler receiving. Here’s a look at another of the Young Money crew and the Next Great 88 – Emmanuel Sanders.
A four sport star in high school, Sanders excelled in track, baseball, basketball and football. Even after averaging over 15 points a game for the varsity basketball team, Sanders true talent was on the gridiron. He was a 1st team All-District player not only at WR, but also at safety and running back. As a senior, he basically did it all on the field, rushing 66 times for 499 yards and 6 TDs, grabbing 24 catches for 414 yards and another TD, and for good measure also passed for another TD. On defense he pitched in with 49 tackles and 3 interceptions while being named the team’s MVP and the Tri-County Offensive Player of the Year. Offers from Division I teams like Kansas, Houston, TCU and Baylor came flying in for Sanders, but he chose to play his college ball at SMU.
After redshirting as a true Freshman, Sanders burst onto the scene during the 2006 season for SMU. Earning a starting spot at both WR and kick returner, Sanders quickly went to work becoming a dominant offensive force. Sanders caught a TD in six straight games, breaking a 29 year record at SMU. He also led the team in receptions (46) yards (605) and TDs (9 – an SMU Freshman record) and also ranked second in his conference with a 24 yard average per kickoff return. With such a solid first season, Sanders was named an honorable mention Freshman All-American at both wide receiver and kick returner by the Sporting News.
In Sanders’ sophomore season, he raised the bar even higher as SMU’s best receiver. He once again led the team with 74 receptions for 889 yards and 9 TDs, with his 74 catches being the third most ever in a season by an SMU receiver. This spectacular sophomore season led him to garner numerous team awards, as well as honorable mention All-Conference as voted for by his opposing coaches.
In 2008, Sanders entered his Junior season at SMU as one of the college’s best receivers ever, and he continued to add to his impressive resume. While he total receptions went down (67), his yardage increased (958) while scoring another 9 TDs. He ranked 11th in the nation with an astounding 96 yards receiving per game, and was top 20 with averaging 7 catches per game. With his third impressive season under his belt, Sanders name begin taking over the SMU record books. He became the school’s career leader in touchdown receptions, and set another record with six 100-yard receiving games, as well as becoming the only SMU player to ever record 3 seasons with at least 600 yards receiving. The NFL took notice, and Sanders contemplated leaving school early to join the NFL, but he decided to come back for one more season at SMU telling the Associate Press, “I want to leave here and be one of the greatest receivers who has ever come through this program.” So he not only wanted to be a great receiver, he wanted to be the greatest. That’s a great quote to take a look into his mindset, that he’s willing to put in the work and has the drive and desire to do what it takes to be the best that he can be.
His final season at SMU was without a doubt his finest. Starting all 13 games, he set team highs once again in receptions (98) yards (1,339) and TDs (7). He averaged an amazing 124.6 all-purpose yards per game, while ranking sixth nationally averaging 103 receiving yards per game. Already the all-time leader in TD receptions, he also became the school’s all-time leader in receptions (235) and yards (3,791). In his final game in an SMU jersey, Sanders had 7 catches for 124 yards and one more TD as his Mustangs won the Hawaii Bowl over Nevada, 45-10.
So to wrap up an unbelievable college career, he basically owns the SMU record books at the WR position. Let’s see…he’s the all-time leader in catches, yards, TDs, holds the single season and single game records for most catches, holds the SMU record for most 100 yard games (16) and is the only player in school history with 600 yards receiving in all four years of eligibility. Yeah, I think he can safely consider himself the greatest WR to go through the SMU program.
Sanders entered the 2010 NFL draft, and was selected by the Steelers in the third round, the 82nd overall pick. After a solid training camp, Sanders quickly broke into the starting lineup playing the slot receiver next to Steeler legend Hines Ward. Once he got into the flow of the offense, he quickly became a favorite target for QB Ben Roethlisberger. His stats were nice for a rookie, 28 catches for 376 yards, but it was the situations that he made his catches that made fans take notice. Anytime a big play was needed or the Steelers faced a critical third down, Ben had no trouble putting his trust in this Steeler rookie. That trust was evident as he helped the Steelers march toward an appearance in this past Super Bowl. Unfortunately, Sanders was injured and unable to continue in the game, which put a huge dent in the Steeler's offensive gameplan. One season, one Super Bowl appearance, and I don't think it will be his last. As he showed in college, Sanders has a drive to be the best that he can be, so the Steelers can be assured that they have just scratched the surface of Sanders’ talents, and the best is yet to come. I have a feeling that we’re going to see him put up big numbers consistently for years to come.
While the “1st” number 88 with the Black and Gold won 4 Super Bowls, is a Hall of Famer, and is widely considered to be one of the best receivers in league history, Steeler Nation can rest assured knowing that the current #88 will do everything in his power to grind and put in the work to live up to that measuring stick. I am pretty sure that Sanders would agree with me….after all, he is the Next Great 88!
Steeler Nation – make sure you look up Emmanuel Sanders on FaceBook and ‘like’ his page. This member of ‘Young Money’ is very fan friendly online, hosts web chats were he answers your questions live, and seems to be just an all-around fun guy who seems to really understand what it means “to be a Steeler.”

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