Trey Sanders stood out as a freshman for the Port St. Joe High School football team.
Three years later, entering his third and senior season at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Sanders is standing out as the top running back recruit in the country, according to 247Sports Composite.
He is ranked anywhere from No. 7 to No. 11 in the overall recruit rankings for the Class of 2019.
Most every recruiting service has Sanders as either No. 1 or No. 2 in the running back class.
Sanders has visited or is known to be considering scholarship offers from Alabama, Florida State, Florida, Georgia, Auburn, Miami, Oklahoma and Texas among dozens of others.
That is some list.
He verbally committed, to play in the defensive secondary, to Alabama following his freshman year, but re-opened his recruitment this year.
Now focused on the offensive side of the ball, Sanders recently had another visit to Tuscaloosa.
Incredibly, Sanders, 5-foot-11, 216-pounds, carried fewer than 80 times last year for IMG, which as an independent in Florida played across the country against top-caliber competition.
Sanders, sharing the backfield with two other blue-chip recruits, one who will suit up for Oklahoma this fall and another considered to also be among the top five backs in the Class of 2019, carried just 76 times.
But he turned those carries into 704 yards and 10 touchdowns, proving to be the home run threat in the IMG backfield, including long runs in the first three wins of the season over Chandler (AZ), Corona Centennial (CA) and Miami Central.
According to Adam Gorney at Rivals.com, “Sanders is the most well-rounded and special running back in this class and he has clearly separated himself from some other highly talented players at his position.
“He has everything someone looks for in a top-end running back from great size, to excellent vision, to patience, to the ability to hit the hole, bounce off tackles, shed arm tackles and then special speed to be a game-breaker once in the secondary.”
That, pretty much, was what Sanders showed as a freshman in 2015 with the Port St. Joe Tiger Sharks.
He led the team with 1,063 rushing yards on 93 carries (11.4 yards per carry) and caught nine passes for another 222 yards (25.1 per catch); he scored 15 touchdowns that year.
On defense, he had 59 tackles, 12 passes defended and four interceptions, including an interception returned for a touchdown.
His final touchdown for the Tiger Sharks, which turned out to be the final score in Port St. Joe’s loss to Trenton in the state Class 1A title game, came on a 100-yard touchdown return.
When the opportunity to transfer to IMG came after that freshman campaign, Sanders took advantage, despite a few bruised feelings from some who had played and coached with Sanders since grade school.
“Growing up I wanted to be the No. 1 running back, be the top player in the country,” Sanders told 247Sports.
“To this point it all still seems surreal. Where I come from people don’t get that. You probably get a D-3 school, maybe not even that. Just to be able to blow up and get the opportunity to go to IMG, it’s a blessing every morning to wake up and have that.”
Sanders is not the only member of his family currently considering his future football options.
His older brother, Umstead, who graduated from Port St. Joe in 2016, has earned academic and athletic (as a linebacker) honors at Hinds (MS) Community College.
Among other schools he is reported to be considering are Florida and Georgia.
The brothers are close.
“We grew up watching other No. 1 running backs,” Umstead told 247Sports. “We watched them growing up saying it’s cool to see these people are No. 1 never really thinking and then out of nowhere he blew up and became No. 1 so quick.
“Trey isn’t going to let you hit him. He’s going to find any kind of way for you not to hit him. He’s very good at making people miss. If you watch his film, nobody is getting a good hit on him.”
Along with the coaches at IMG, the college coaches started showing up in Port St. Joe following that freshman year.
Jimbo Fisher, then with FSU, was the first but it was not long before Sanders was spending a summer camp in Alabama and committing to the Crimson Tide.
Sanders still took visits to other schools and ultimately re-opened his recruitment on New Year’s Day.
“(I want) the school to pretty much set me up to get better in life, to better me as a young black man in America,” Sanders told 247Sports. “For me, growing up as a young black man you have a lot of obstacles.
“I want coaches to understand that and teach me how to be better in the world and how to live better.”
Compared to his fellow running backs in the Class of 2019, Sanders is already a step ahead on the field.
“Sanders is in a class by himself,” said Gorney.