Position, years at Arizona: Strong safety, 1992-95
Honors, accomplishments at UA: Two-time first-team All-Pac-10 performer, in 1994 and 1995. … Second-team all-conference as a sophomore. … Broke up 29 passes, seventh on UA’s career list.
Why he made our list: Sanders put the feistiness into UA’s Desert Swarm defenses, packing 175 pounds of energy into his aggressive play at strong safety.
“(Then-Stanford coach) Bill Walsh said Brandon Sanders was pound-for-pound the best player in the Pac-10,” former UA coach Dick Tomey told TucsonCitizen.com.
“And he was arguably, on the field, the smartest. He was just so bright, so alert, so cerebral in the way he approached the game.”
Sanders, after redshirting in 1991, became a four-year starter at UA, immediately showing his big-play ability with a 45-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the 1992 season opener. He teamed with free safety Tony Bouie for three seasons as an impeccable defensive combination. The Sporting News selected the duo as the top pair of safeties in the nation in 1994.
Sanders, who had nine career interceptions, was the last in the line of great UA safeties from San Diego’s Helix High — Allan Durden, Chuck Cecil, Jeff Hammerschmidt and then Sanders.
Tomey never passed up an opportunity to rave about Sanders, and he still invokes the safety’s perfect choice of words after UA, as a four-touchdown underdog, lost 8-7 at top-ranked Miami in 1992.
“Brandon said after that game that we realized that we could beat everybody,” Tomey said. “He didn’t say ‘anybody.’ He said ‘everybody.’ That speaks volumes about how that group felt and approached things.”
The Desert Swarm era was born that day in Miami, as the Wildcats went on a five-game winning streak that culminated with a win over top-ranked Washington.
Life after college: Sanders’ lack of size scared off NFL teams, and he went undrafted in 1996. He signed with Kansas City but was cut in camp. He got another chance with the New York Giants the next year and stuck on the roster for two seasons before being selected by the Cleveland Browns in the 1999 expansion draft. When the Browns cut Sanders in camp, the Giants brought him back. He appeared in 34 games in three seasons with New York, appearing mostly on special teams and making two starts.
Sanders got into coaching, spending the past four seasons as an assistant at Tucson’s Pima Community College. He has also been on the coaching staff for the local Casino Del Sol College Football All-Star Game in the past two years. Sanders has joined the staff of state-title-winning coach Jeff Scurran, who is taking over Catalina Foothills High School this season.
In partnership with the Arizona Republic, we are counting down the top 50 football players in Arizona Wildcats history. Leave your top 10 at AG’s Wildcat Report on Facebook, and check out azcentral.com for the countdown of ASU’s Top 50 football players.
No. 50 — LaMonte Hunley
No. 49 — Hubie Oliver
No. 48 — Rob Gronkowski
No. 47 — Jim Donarski
No. 46 — Ontiwaun Carter
No. 45 — Steve McLaughlin
No. 44 — John Fina
No. 43 — Glenn Parker
No. 42 — Bobby Lee Thompson
No. 41 — Marcus Bell
No. 40 — Fred W. Enke
No. 39 — Ka’Deem Carey
No. 38 — Juron Criner
No. 37 — Dana Wells
No. 36 — Tom Tunnicliffe
No. 35 — Bruce Hill
No. 34 — Chuck Osborne