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Celebrating on Signing Day without a signing

Deer Creek's Caden Sander is one of several players to turn down Division II scholarship offers. He planned to attend Oklahoma to study petroleum engineering, and then Sooners assistant coach Josh Heupel called with an invitation he couldn't refuse.
by Jenni Carlson Published: February 5, 2014

“We didn't send anything in to them,” Sander said of his highlight video. “They kind of found me.”

And once Sander talked to Heupel, he quickly decided that he wanted to walk on. Yes, if he makes the roster after a two-week tryout period in August, it will mean balancing a demanding major with major-college football, but Sander believes he's up to the challenge.

He grew up around farming and ranching where early mornings, hard days and late nights are the norm. His granddad is a custom harvester, and Sander spent many summers traveling around the countryside helping to harvest other people's crops. His dad has worked in the cattle industry for as long as Sander can remember and is now an operations manager.

“He's worked his way up,” Sander said of his father. “I guess he's always instilled in me that you've got to work for what you're going to get. It's not just going to be handed to you.”

That will definitely be the case for Sander at OU. He has no football scholarship, though scoring a 29 on the ACT has helped him secure enough academic scholarships to nearly pay his way. He has no roster spot.

But he doesn't mind.

“I kind of like it that way,” he said. “It leaves me working for something. I have to work for that scholarship and for a spot on the team.

“I think that leaves me a little hungrier than some other guys.”

For any walk-on, preferred or otherwise, the challenge is great. But on signing day, athletes like Sander were just like everyone else. They thanked their families and friends and coaches. They posed for pictures. They laughed and smiled.

They celebrated the possibilities in their future.

Jenni Carlson can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at, follow her at or view her personality page at

by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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