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Barry J. Sanders: Weighing Oklahoma State and Stanford as his leading choices, and reconciling the vast differences

BY JASON KERSEY, Staff Writer, Modified: December 16, 2011 at 1:32 pm •  Published: December 16, 2011

One option appeals to Barry J. Sanders' cerebral, introverted nature; he could walk in virtual anonymity around a campus where he once had a one-on-one chat with a former secretary of state.

The other, his lifelong allegiance and father's legacy; he took part in an on-field celebration earlier this month following the rout of a rival and the clinching of a first-ever conference championship.

The Heritage Hall senior will announce where he'll play college football at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on Jan. 7.

That's five days after Stanford and Oklahoma State, the two schools thought to be atop his list, face off in the Fiesta Bowl.

They're leading his list of finalists — which also includes Alabama and Florida State — because of the visits the nation's No. 8 high school running back had to faraway Palo Alto and nearby Stillwater.

The trips were starkly different, but equally memorable.

The first time Sanders visited Stanford, he and other recruits had lunch with star quarterback Andrew Luck.

Luck finished second in this year's Heisman Trophy race. But his classmates didn't so much as blink when they walked past him.

“It was definitely a different reaction from students than when I was at Alabama,” Sanders said.

“We went to a basketball game with (running back and 2011 Heisman finalist) Trent Richardson, and people were anxious to get his attention. It was like a mob.”

That sort of quiet, academic atmosphere would certainly mesh well with Sanders' low-key demeanor.

At other schools, Sanders might run into sports-crazed mobs.

At Stanford, he might run into former cabinet members.

During one visit to the school, he met with Condoleezza Rice, former United States secretary of state and current Stanford political science professor.

“I got a chance to talk with her one-on-one,” Sanders said. “She told me her story and expressed her interest in the football world.

“It was neat to see a person like that with a strong football connection.”

Sanders also knows that if football doesn't work out, a degree from Stanford University is matched in prestige by few.

“A big part of the recruiting pitch for Stanford is you are making a 40-year decision, not a four-year one,” said Rick Jones, a recruiting analyst for the Rivals site that covers Stanford. “I think that resounds in a family like Sanders'.”

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