Q&A WITH JASPER SANKS
If there is one person on the face of this Earth who knows what Isaiah Crowell is going through this week it’s Jasper Sanks. Both of them are from Columbus, both of them were Carver High graduates, both were five-star running back prospects and both came to Georgia pulling a freight train of expectations behind them. Crowell will play his first college football game on Saturday against No. 5 Boise State in the Georgia Dome. Sanks played his first game with the Bulldogs 13 years ago. But their circumstances are eerily similar.
For Sanks, there was no storybook ending. Though he had a solid college career — 1,651 yards, 12 touchdowns — he was never able to live up to the grandiose expectations placed on him. And he made plenty of mistakes along the way. He failed to gain freshman eligibility, showed up overweight and out of shape, got arrested (though charges were later dropped) and struggled with ball security. And the NFL career that was practically assured for him never materialized.
But through it all, Sanks says he has no regrets. The experiences he had at Georgia, he said, made him the man is he today. He met his future wife at UGA — volleyball player Kristine Keese — and the two had their first child, Savannah, this past March. He also received the bulk of his education at Georgia. After graduating with business management degree from the University of Phoenix last December, Sanks, 33, now works in the oil business in Houston. So as Sanks cheerfully proclaims, there is a “happily ever after” to his story.
We caught up with Sanks in a telephone interview this week to see what he had to say about Crowell and to reflect on his four years in Athens. . . .
Q: So has Isaiah Crowell been on your mind lot lately?
A: “Oh yeah, absolutely. I was just talking to my wife about this young guy. I definitely feel what the guy is going through. Being a tailback at the University of Georgia and coming in as one of the top running backs like I did, that’s a lot of pressure. It’s hard to describe but it’s a lot a pressure, man. You’ve got a lot of fans that are pulling for you to come in and be that impact player right away. They don’t have time to wait for you to grow or get experience. They want you hit that field running at top speed. So, yeah, it was pressure. I can’t deny that man. That’s probably why I went bald and lost my hair [laughs].”
Q: You and Isaiah are both Carver High grads from Columbus and certainly kindred spirits. Do you know him personally?
A: “Yes, I’ve gotten to speak with him a few times. Mostly we’ve just sent a lot of text messages back and forth. Nothing really about football. I told him that’s going to take care of itself. The only thing I’m trying to pop into his head is mainly to stay focused and leave home at home.”
Q: What do you mean “leave home at home?”
A: “It’s so hard when you’re a high-profile player like that. You’ve got so many people who are pushing you. They think just because they’re pushing that’s something good. It’s not. I want him to be surrounded with people who are pulling for him, not pushing him. If you let them they’ll push you off a cliff. My main concern is the supporting cast he has. When I was coming through, I had a lot of people saying, ‘yes, yes, yes,’ when they should have been saying ‘no, no, no, no.’ So I’m real worried about the people he’s surrounding himself with. I’m more worried about that than I am about the football for him. The game will take care of itself. He has God-given ability. We all know he can play the game. It’s the small stuff outside of the football I want the young man to think about.
“I know what he had to go through coming from Columbus, Ga. There’s a lifestyle down there in the inner city that you’re fighting. There’s a lot of demons that you’re fighting with. It’s a situation where it’s kind of hard to cut off some of these people you grew up with. But it’s for the best. It’s hard because you don’t want to be labeled as somebody who has changed or who has a big head. There are so many different elements involved that fans don’t see that he’s dealing with. And I know it because I’ve been there.”
Q: What are your recollections of your first year at Georgia?
A: “I tell you, man, it was almost like it wasn’t real, with all the attention and the speed of the game and trying to learn that complex offense than [Jim] Donnan was running at that time. It was so much different than it was in high school. In high school I was just so much bigger, faster, better than everybody I came up against. Once I got to college, it was so competitive, it was really overwhelming.”
Q: I think most people would describe your career at Georgia as somewhat tumultuous on and off the field. How would you analyze it?
A: “I think I came into a situation where I was kind of caught in the crossfire. Coach Donnan didn’t originally recruit me; it was actually Ray Goff who first recruited me. And coming in from Marshall, I think Coach Donnan had a lot on his plate with the job and alumni and everything. I felt like I kind of got caught in the crossfire. It was just an unfortunate situation.”
Q: Did you feel like you were a better player than you get credit for?
A: “I definitely felt like I was an All-SEC-caliber tailback. But you come in with a guy like Quincy Carter, who demanded to throw the ball 40 times a game. And Coach Donnan liked those small scatbacks. I was a prototype SEC-type tailback, run between the tackles. Coach Richt was the same way. He liked those Warrick Dunn-type backs.They just didn’t cater to my style. So it was just bad timing on my part. Nothing against those coaches; I thought both of them were great coaches. I just think during my era I just came at the wrong time. I was a between-the-tackles, clock-management type of back. That’s not what they were looking for.”
Q: So how would you describe your time at Georgia?
A: “Oh, it was a happy time. It was a learning experience. I’m a spiritual person and I believe if it was meant to be I would have made it to that next level. I wouldn’t take anything back. It was a life-learning experience. If it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t have persevered and went on and got my degree and been successful like I am now. I’m very happy. It was great for me in that it made me the man I am now.”
Q: How did you end up in the oil business, by the way?
A: “I actually met the vice president of this company, The Wood Group — GE bought us and now we’re GE Oil & Gas — when I was working at Enterprise. I was a branch manager with Enterprise Rental Car and the guy had a corporate account with us. He came in and we had about a five- or 10-minute conversation. We hit it off and he told me I should send in a resume. About a week later, he brought me in for an interview and they hired me right away. It was like a dream come true.”
Q: I’m assuming you’ll be tuned in for Saturday’s game?
A: “Oh, yeah, I can’t wait. I’ll be watching. . . . When I see that guy run out there on the field with that No. 1 jersey on, it’s going to give me chill bumps, because I know exactly what he’s going through.”