Jake Sharp, a blur of a back who rushed for 860 yards and 12 touchdowns for Kansas University last season, isn’t the only player in program history to prove unconventional lack of size doesn’t equate to a death sentence for a major-college career.
Tuxedo Tony Sands, so named because he wore a tux to games, willed his 5-foot-6, 175-pound frame past, over, around and through enough defenders to rush for 396 yards in a game, 1,479 in a season and 3,788 in a career. He was named Big Eight Offensive Player of the Year in 1991.
Sands, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is a speed-trainer for professional athletes and runs a high school football scouting Web site, was in attendance at KU’s spring football game Saturday in Memorial Stadium. One more time, he recalled carrying the football 58 times and gaining 396 yards in a victory against Missouri.
“The players put me on top of their shoulders and carried me off the field,” he said.
Sands said his son Deshaun, a baby, was in the stands for that one. They reversed roles for Saturday’s intrasquad game, 171⁄2 years later.
Deshaun Sands of Sunrise, Fla., graduated from high school a semester early and enrolled in school in January so that he could participate in spring football practice. At the moment, Sands ranks third on KU’s running-back depth chart.
Second-string back Jocques Crawford is suspended and possibly on his way out of the program. Bruising Toben Opurum from Plano, Texas, could work his way all the way to second-string as a freshman if he has a productive enough summer. For now, Rell Lewis, a little smaller than Sharp and a little bigger than Sands, ranks second on the running-back depth chart.
Deshaun Sands, listed at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, said after the Spring Game that his actual height is probably more like 5-61⁄2.
“You can be any size and do anything you want to as long as you put your mind to it,” Sands said. “That’s what my dad always told me.”
He didn’t just tell him, he showed him by popping in a highlight tape from his KU days. Deshaun smiled when asked if it was tough to get his father to talk about his playing days.
“It’s easy,” said Deshaun, who gained 28 yards on eight carries and had an eight-yard reception Saturday. “Too easy.”
The son’s favorite play of his father’s from the highlight tape came against Iowa State, not Missouri.
“He was behind his linemen, and he had two defenders to get through,” Deshaun said. “He busted right through them. He was like a bowling ball, and they were two pins. They just fell down.”
Deshaun lived the first few years of his life in Lawrence before moving to South Florida. He has learned since moving back to Lawrence that his dad isn’t the only who likes to look back on his remarkable career.
“I will be out with teammates, go to McDonald’s, and people will come up to me and ask, ‘Are you Tony Sands’ son?’ They remember him and they ask me for his number because they want to talk to him, get back with him, and get in touch with him,” Deshaun said. “It’s great to hear that my dad is still known here. They feel like he’s a legend at Kansas. That’s great to hear about your dad.”