FAYETTEVILLE — Raheim “Rocket” Sanders came to Arkansas as a four-star athlete out of Rockledge (Fla.) High School capable of helping at several positions.
It was thought by most he would be a wide receiver, but Arkansas put him at running back as soon as he arrived and he is thriving there.
“It went good,” Sanders said. “Of course I came out as a receiver, but when I got recruited I told them I would play any position. I just came to play. So it wasn’t anything new to me because in high school I ran the ball out of the backfield. Not new to me, so pretty good.”
Myron Cunningham is Arkansas’ talented left tackle and one of the key blockers for Sanders and the backs. He was asked if he’s surprised at Sanders’ immediate success?
“It surprised me in the aspect of him being a freshman and making such an impact, but him as a person no it didn’t surprise me,” Cunningham said. “As soon as we put on those pads it didn’t surprise me what he could do.”
Sanders chose Arkansas pretty early in the recruiting, but it wasn’t an easy decision since he was committing to a school and state he had never been to and wouldn’t before he enrolled.
“Actually it was a little tricky,” Sanders said. “It was a little scary for me as well. Our class went through COVID and I didn’t take no visits. I only took two visits to UCF before. I was talking to Coach (Justin) Stepp, Coach (Sam Pittman) Pitt. I didn’t really talk to Coach (Jimmy) Smith like that. I talked to him like here and there. But it was actually pretty good. I went through the process with talking to them over the phone. Of course like I said it was scary. I believed talking to Coach Pitt and definitely Coach Stepp so it went well for me.”
Sanders, AJ Green, Trelon Smith and Dominique Johnson each scored a touchdown against Texas. The Hogs rushed for 333 yards and averaged 7.1 yards per carry.
“It was actually good because it was like, not just me, but everybody in that room, we put that work in,” Sanders said. “We actually talk to each other and get each other better. Nobody is hating in that room. That’s the key thing, I feel like when it comes down (to it). If you’re in the room and someone’s hating, it’s not good. Everybody comes every day with the same intensity and getting everybody better. So it was pretty good.”
Sanders enrolled at Arkansas in January thus went through the off-season program as well as spring practices. He was asked how much arriving early helped?
“In spring, it really helped me because my key thing was, like I told Coach Stepp when he was here and Coach Pitt, was the plays,” Sanders said. “I was scared because I didn’t know anything about that. High school is like okay, get the ball and go. I know at the next level, you’re going to have to know the plays to be able to play. That was my key thing, is knowing the plays. That was a little scary for me when it came down to knowing the plays. But when I got in the playbook and studied every day and we watched film over and over, over the little things I can get better at, it was pretty good.”
Following Tuesday’s practice, Sanders explained how he got the nickname Rocket.
“Little league,” Sanders said. “It was little league when I first made my touchdown. It was like age of 7. I was actually playing, y’all know I was playing basketball and football. I stopped playing football at the age of 13, 14 and I didn’t get back to it until like, into my 10th grade year and I had got surgery, as I told y’all. Other than that, it was good.”
Green is also a true freshman running back. He was injured and didn’t play against Rice. He made his debut against Texas and showed off his speed.
“Definitely, like what he was saying, I’m excited for what he can bring, as well,” Sanders said. “Of course, he’s pretty fast. I like that. He makes me get better in that room. He makes me get better because every time he goes fast, I want to go fast. It’s no hate or nothing between any of us, but at the end of the day, it feels like when somebody else is going fast and they turn it up a little notch, I feel like I should turn it up a little notch. So in that room, he’s making me better and not just me, but other cats as well.”
Arkansas will return to the practice fields on Wednesday.