ARLINGTON — Denton Ryan lost last year’s Class 5A Division I state championship game to Alvin Shadow Creek in heartbreaking fashion. It’s become a normal feeling for Ryan, a Class 5A powerhouse that simply hasn’t taken that final step to capture a state crown. Two-way star Ja’Tavion Sanders hopes 2020 changes that trend and puts the Raiders on top of the Class 5A landscape. The senior will play an important role as a player and a leader.
“Our goal is to win state and we’ll need everyone on the roster to achieve that goal. I want to go out with a bang,” Sanders said following Ryan’s season-opening win over Arlington Martin last Friday in AT&T Stadium. “I don’t feel any extra pressure as a senior leader, but there is a responsibility to go as hard as I can for our younger teammates and show them what it takes to win at the varsity level.”
Sanders scored two touchdowns as a receiver and returned an interception more than 60 yards for a touchdown. Martin is a Class 6A program. Sanders is the lone five-star recruit in Texas’ 2021 class, which consists of 18 members and ranks 15th in the nation and second in the Big 12.
— Mike Craven (@CravenMike) September 25, 2020
“We want to make a statement and we want everyone to know that we’re still dominant,” he said. “It was great to be back out there with my teammates. We came out with a ton of energy. We’ve been waiting nine months to get back on the field because of everything happening in the world. I was so excited to be playing the game I love.”
The two-way star readies for his workload with his practice habits. He’s still undecided on his college position. He could be a defensive end with the size and speed to make NFL scouts drool. Or he can play offense since he loves catching touchdowns. That’s why the 6-3, 220-pounder is the nation’s No. 2-ranked athlete, according to 247Sports’ composite ratings.
“Playing four quarters when you start both ways is tough,” Sanders said. “That process starts with how we practice. I’m running around the entire practice trying to get ready for the toll a full football game takes on my body. I’m running routes and then moving to the trenches on defense. It’s not easy, but it is what I’ve worked for over the past few years.”
Texas fans can seemingly relax over his commitment status. Sanders said that his pledge is still 100% secure. He’s the third-ranked player on the Fabulous 55.
A player destined to be on the 2022 Fabulous 55 is defensive tackle Bear Alexander. He’s now a teammate of Sanders’ at Ryan, but the big man wasn’t able to play in the win over Martin with his eligibility status in limbo. Alexander moved to Ryan from Dallas Skyline. He’s hoping to return to the field in October if the UIL grants his waiver.
“I hope I can get out there next week and play a real game with my guys,” Alexander said. “It boosts my confidence and my energy to play with these guys at Denton Ryan. No one wants to be the weak link, so that raises everyone’s play. And we make each other better in practice.”
At 6-3, Alexander ballooned to nearly 350 pounds as a sophomore. He knew that wasn’t healthy. He also knew that college coaches would be more intrigued if he slimmed down and became more athletic.
“I’ve spent my offseason dieting and conditioning to get my weight down and in check,” Alexander said. “I dropped from 345 to 315.”
Alexander is among the most coveted defensive tackles in the 2022 cycle despite a lack of varsity tape. He played junior varsity in 2019 at Skyline. Texas is among 28 programs to offer. Alexander is in no rush to trim that list down to a handful of favorites.
“I’m interested in every school that is interested in me right now. It is too early to eliminate schools and all that, especially without being able to take visits,” he said. “I’ll start narrowing my focus and deciding on a school once I can get on the road and take my official visits before the start of next football season.”