After three years in the Arkansas football program, Rocket Sanders is packing his bags and heading east via the transfer portal.
The former All-SEC running back has reportedly committed to South Carolina for his final season of collegiate eligibility, reuniting with Dowell Loggains and Justin Stepp. The decision comes on the heels of an official visit to Columbia, S.C., over the weekend.
Loggains, who was the Razorbacks’ tight ends coach from 2021-22, is entering his second season as the Gamecocks’ offensive coordinator, while Stepp actually recruited Sanders to Arkansas as a wide receiver before returning home to join South Carolina’s staff.
It is a perfectly logical landing spot for Sanders, who will try to rekindle the success he had as a sophomore after an injury-plagued junior campaign in which he appeared in only six games.
However, his departure and apparent decision to make what some consider a “lateral move” has resulted in a largely hypocritical response by Arkansas football fans.
Criticism of Rocket Sanders
Let’s get this out of the way first: As a fan, you have every right to be sad, mad or indifferent when a player chooses to leave your favorite team — that’s part of being a fan. You aren’t obligated to wish them well at their next stop, especially if it’s somewhere in the same conference.
That said, it’s important to take each player’s decision to enter the transfer portal in the proper context. The stereotypical reactions don’t always apply. For example: Fine, he sucked anyway. -OR- Who cares? He wasn’t that good.
Comments on social media are never representative of the entire fan base, but there were A LOT of these kinds of shots taken at Rocket Sanders. Simply put, that is revisionist history.
Sure, he ran for only 209 yards and two touchdowns while averaging just 3.4 yards per carry this season. He was also hurt pretty much all year and running behind a putrid offensive line.
Those statements also completely ignore what Sanders did his first two years on campus. After piling up 578 yards and averaging 5.1 yards per carry in his first season ever playing the position, he put together one of the best single seasons by a running back in school history.
In 2022, Sanders ran for 1,443 yards and 10 touchdowns — and did it while averaging 6.5 yards per carry. The only Arkansas football players with more rushing yards in a season? Darren McFadden (twice) and Alex Collins. The only Arkansas football player with a better yards per carry average in a 1,000-yard season? Felix Jones (twice).
If he really wasn’t that good, then neither were McFadden, Collins or Jones.
Questions About Loyalty to Arkansas Football
Another charge leveled by some fans: There’s no loyalty any more. He never even cared about Arkansas.
Ideally, every player would spend four or five years at a school and then move on — either to the NFL or the real world. With the transfer portal and NIL, though, those days are long gone. In today’s age of college athletics, “loyalty” is much more complex than that.
If Sanders truly wasn’t loyal to Arkansas, he would have hit the transfer portal after his freshman year. He had plenty of reasons to do so. After all, he was immediately moved to a different position and the coach who recruited him left before he made it to campus.
If Sanders truly wasn’t loyal to Arkansas, he would have hit the transfer portal after his sophomore year. I mean, could you imagine the going rate for an All-SEC running back coming off a season like he had in 2022?
If Sanders truly wasn’t loyal to Arkansas, he would have quit during his junior season with the intention of hitting the transfer portal. He could have hung it up after getting hurt in the opener, but he returned. He could have hung it up after his setback following the Ole Miss game, but he returned.
Heck, he could have ended the year on a high note by opting out following his 100-yard performance in the Florida win. At that point, Sanders could have redshirted and had two years of eligibility remaining. But he played in the next two games and would have played in the finale had he not gotten hurt again.
It’s also worth noting that even when he was out, Sanders was still a visible presence on the sideline during games, supporting his teammates. That wasn’t the case for another injured star and team captain a year earlier.
More than Football for Rocket Sanders
Finally, there were complaints about Rocket Sanders simply going to the highest bidder or chasing the money.
There’s no way of knowing how much he’ll get by transferring to South Carolina compared to staying at Arkansas, but if that truly was a factor… Who cares?
This is America, where capitalism rules. Part of the “American Dream” is working hard to improve your standing in life, which typically involves making more money. A pay raise is why a lot of people change jobs, and no one bats an eye.
Not only that, but Sanders has a young son to take care of. If he’s going to a situation that leads to more money, that enables him to better provide for his son — an ideal any father or parent should relate to.
That son also probably factored into his decision to head east. Many speculated he’d end up at Florida State, Florida or Miami (Fla.) because they’re within a 5-hour drive of his hometown of Rockledge, Fla.
Even though he’s not returning to the Sunshine State, he’s still a whole heck of a lot closer to home – and his son – now than he was in Fayetteville. Instead of 16.5 hours, it’s just a 6.5-hour drive to Columbia, S.C., from his hometown.
Following his aforementioned big game against Florida, Sanders’ face lit up when asked about playing in front of his son. He revealed it was the first time Rocket Jr. had a chance to see him play. Now he’ll likely get that chance more often and probably get to spend more time with his father.
You don’t have to be happy about it, but the least Arkansas football fans could do is respect the reasons behind his departure.
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