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Sanders Confident, Ready To Compete

Jason Sanders was one of only two kickers selected in the 2018 NFL draft, a fact even more remarkable when one considers that he wasn't among the 11 kicking specialists invited to the scouting combine.

It's even more noteworthy if you think back to his first days in high school when Sanders wasn't even playing football. Soccer was his thing, and it was mainly because his brother was the kicker on the football team that Sanders finds himself a member of the Miami Dolphins today.

"I think a couple months ago I think I was pretty shocked of how everything fell in together," Sanders said. "To see where I am now, I think it's pretty crazy to think about. My freshman year of high school, I didn't even want to play football. I got forced into it. I told my parents, I said, 'The coach wants me to play and I said no.' And then they were like, 'You should give it a shot.' And then I gave it a shot and then we went from there. I think the whole process of how I got to this position is pretty crazy to think about."

The reason the football coach at Villa Park High School in California wanted Sanders to give football a shot was that he had his older brother beforehand and he figured the genes combined with Jason's soccer background would make him a good candidate to succeed.

And succeed he did.

"My brother was a big kicker for the high school," Jason said. "He found success. I was a big soccer guy growing up, so I didn't really want to do the change. I saw how successful he could be, so I kind of gave it a shot and didn't really get serious until junior year."

Sanders ultimately found success beyond what his brother achieved, getting offers from Utah, Washington, Virginia Tech and Colorado before settling on the University of New Mexico.

Four years later, Sanders found himself drafted by the Dolphins with their second of two seventh-round picks.

Special Teams Coordinator Darren Rizzi and his assistant Marwan Maalouf worked out Sanders before the draft, leading the Dolphins to choose Sanders over all the kickers available in the 2018 draft other than Auburn's Daniel Carlson, who already have been picked by the Minnesota Vikings in the fifth round.

Rizzi said the Dolphins particularly liked Sanders' leg strength, as well as his demeanor.

"Mental toughness is a really, really hard thing to judge," Rizzi said. "I really like his demeanor. I like his background. I've obviously spent some time with him. He comes from a military family. His dad served in the Air Force. He's got two brothers who are serving in the Air Force right now. He's the youngest of four kids. For a guy having five kids, I kind of know what that young guy is like. He's a little bit of a competitive guy. My little spit-fire 11-year-old, he's a competitive son of a gun. All kidding aside, I really liked his makeup, his background.

"It's tough, at the end of the day, to figure it out, but the thing I like about him is his mentality. He's one of those guys that's always right (in the middle). I really like that in a specialist. A lot like (punter) Matt Haack, he never gets too excited, too high or too low. I kind of like that. Again, everything remains to be seen. How he performs is going to be the bottom line."

The Dolphins also have to like Sanders' kickoff prowess, which resulted in 83 percent of his kickoffs the past two seasons going for touchbacks.

Sanders is quick to point out that even though the altitude of New Mexico helped at times, he also got his share of touchbacks in other, flatter places.

In terms of field goals, Sanders made 25 of 35 field goal attempts for New Mexico for a 71.4 percentage that doesn't necessarily jump of the page. But Rizzi said field goal percentage is not a good indicator when it comes to college kicker because of frequent issues with the whole placekicking process, from the snapper to the holder.

To prove his point, Rizzi provided a list of successful NFL kickers with similar success rates in college.

"Stephen Gostkowski for the Patriots was a 76 percent field goal kicker in college," Rizzi said. "Matt Bryant for the Falcons was a 72 percent field goal kicker in college. Mason Crosby (was a) 74 percent kicker in college. Phil Dawson was a 74 percent kicker in college. Robbie Gould was a 63 percent kicker in college. Between those five guys, they have over 70 years of NFL experience. The point is the field goal percentage probably gets looked at a little bit too much, but in this day in age of fantasy football and numbers and everything, I get it."

After drafting Sanders, the Dolphins signed Greg Joseph from Florida Atlantic University as a rookie free agent to provide competition to the kicking job, which opened up when Cody Parkey left in the offseason via free agency.

As much as much as getting drafted meant to Sanders, he knows he'll still have to perform during OTAs and training camp to lock down the job.

"It's definitely a confidence booster of what the Miami Dolphins think of me," he said. "With that, I feel like I bring a lot of confidence into coming here. You always want to play for a team that really wants you.

"It's an open competition, I believe. It all comes down to who comes out there and makes their kicks, who kicks farthest, and at the end of the day, who's the most accurate. For me, it's just a day-by-day process. I can't look at the next day."

In his down time, we can imagine Sanders allows himself to look back a little bit and reflect on how he got to this point.