Playmakers share so many things.
Whether its speed, strength, endurance, or a burning desire to be the best, their ability to change a game with one touch of the football makes them special.
Michael Carr and Vincent Sanders share all of those traits and more.
The West Point High School and Noxubee County High seniors also bring a confidence to the field that allows them to deliver game-changing plays on offense or defense.
For Carr, the majority of his difference-making efforts came on offense as part of West Point”s run to the Mississippi High School Activities Association Class 5A state title.
For Sanders, an injury in the season opener against Starkville only delayed his ability to impact offenses and defenses for the Tigers, who advanced to the Class 4A North Half semifinals.
For their accomplishments this season, Carr and Sanders are The Commercial Dispatch Large School Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year.
“Michael without being cocky and being humble has more confidence than anybody I have ever coached,” West Point High football coach Chris Chambless said. “You know if you put it in his hands he has the confidence to make it happen.”
Carr was the primary receiving threat on a Green Wave team that dominated opponents with a rushing attack that piled up 4,037 yards in 15 games. He led the team with 38 catches for 834 yards and eight touchdowns. He also had four rushing scores and three more by return.
The Mississippi State commitment showcased his versatility in West Point”s 35-14 victory against Wayne County in the state title game on Dec. 5 in Jackson. Carr caught a 64-yard touchdown pass from Justin Cox in the first quarter. He added a 78-yard kick return for a touchdown to open the second half. The second score was the first of 21 unanswered points in the second half that helped push the Green Wave to their first state title since 2005, and the program”s sixth overall.
Carr played quarterback last season but was injured late in the year. His absence played a key role in West Point”s first-round loss in the Class 4A North Half State playoffs.
With Cox settling in at quarterback this season, Carr was free to play a variety of roles on offense and to see action on defense when the Green Wave needed.
“He matured a lot from last year,” Chambless said. “He became a better leader and gained more confidence. Nine times out of 10 something positive was going to happen if we got it into his hands. He didn”t flaunt it and he never said anything when he didn”t get the ball. He is very humble and confident at the same time.”
Chambless said Carr remained a leader who helped set the tone for the Green Wave. He said a perfect example came following Carr”s kick return for a touchdown in the state title game. Carr came to the sidelines and stressed to his teammates that the game wasn”t over and that the Green Wave had to remained focused if they want to finish what they started.
West Point didn”t let anybody down, and neither did Carr.
“He is not in this business to let anybody down. He has his family, his community, his coaches, and a lot of people pulling for him who want him to be successful,” Chambless said. “He is working hard to try to please everybody, and along the way I think he is pleasing Michael, too.”
Sanders suffered a fractured jaw in Noxubee County”s season-opening victory against Starkville on Aug. 21. He missed five games and didn”t return until the Tigers” game Oct. 2 at Kosciusko.
Still, Sanders had more than 40 catches for more than 600 yards (more than 1,700 total yards). On defense, he had two interceptions at free safety. His presence on the field typically caused teams to throw away from him, or not to throw at all.
Noxubee County coach M.C. Miller said Sanders handled his injury well. He said the Tigers played well without their senior leader, but he said there is no telling what kind of season the team could have had if it would have had Sanders healthy all year.
“The time he was out there he had a good year,” Miller said. “On offense he was our game-breaker. We knew as long as we had Vincent healthy we could score at any time. When you have a game-breaker at any time you tend not to worry. He also was a game-stopper because teams were not going to throw anything deep on us. He was just a key player all around for us and on special teams and on kickoffs.”
Miller believes Sanders matured into a leader throughout the season. Not the most outspoken player, Sanders opened up more and learned how to be more of a vocal leader while continuing to be a lead-by-example performer for his teammates.
“He is going to be an outstanding player in college,” Miller said. “His work habits are good and he doesn”t mind working hard and running and doing the things you need to do.”
Sanders proved his coach right by returning to midseason form right when he was cleared to play. He said the season as a whole was kind of a letdown because he wasn”t healthy for the entire year.
“I think by the end I had a pretty good season,” Sanders said. “I knew it would have been a whole lot better if I had been healthy. Once I got hurt I realized I wasn”t going to meet most of my goals.”
Sanders said his love for football helped him return to the field. He said he rode the bike to stay in shape so he could be ready when he came back.
Once he did, he didn”t have a problem playing quarterback or wide receiver or free safety. His main concern was doing what he could to help the Tigers stay alive to defend their 2008 Class 4A state title.
Sometimes doing nothing even helped the Tigers.
Sanders said it made him mad when opponents didn”t challenge him by throwing the ball. He said the benefit was that it inspired the Tigers” defensive line and linebackers because they knew teams were going to run the ball and that they had to rise to the challenge.
Sanders” next challenge will be to pick a college. He said he has received multiple scholarship offers and is still considering Florida State, the University of Mississippi, Mississippi State, Southern Miss, North Carolina, West Virginia among others (in no particular order). He said the first four schools on that list are recruiting him the hardest.
Sanders said he doesn”t have a No. 1 school at this point and that he thinks he could wait until National Signing Day in February 2010 to make a final decision. He said the majority of the schools that are recruiting him said they plan to use him at wide receiver. He figures the school he selects likely will play him on offense and on defense to see where he fits best.
For a playmaker, that shouldn”t be too big of a test. He only has to wait to get his hands on the football to show what he can do.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.