Kevin Yoxall, Auburn’s veteran strength and conditioning coach, stopped making predictions on guys a long time ago.
But in terms of how hard a kid has worked in the weight room and how much bigger and stronger he’s gotten in a little more than a year, Yoxall doesn’t mind saying that sophomore defensive end Craig Sanders might be somebody to keep an eye on in the fall.
“I look for the young man to become a player in this league,” Yoxall says simply.
Sanders, a fixture for the Tigers last season on special teams as a true freshman, has been hard to miss in Auburn’s weight room this offseason. For one, he’s practically lived there.
The results have been obvious, too, making Sanders one of the SEC’s resident “Workout Warriors” as we point toward the 2011 season.
He came to Auburn a year ago after graduating high school early and weighed 225 pounds. Earlier this week, Yoxall said Sanders weighed in at 266 pounds.
“The goal for him was to weigh 270 pounds by the end of the summer, and he’s right there,” Yoxall said. “He’s followed his weight program to a ‘T.’”
In fact, just one program hasn’t been enough for Sanders.
He’s flourished in the morning workout and training sessions attended by all of the Auburn players. And on lifting days, Sanders had Yoxall and the strength staff put together a second program just for him, so he’s been grinding through dual workouts for much of the offseason.
“He’s gotten stronger, bigger and faster, and he hasn’t put on any bad weight,” Yoxall said. “He comes in on his own for that second workout after all of his classes and is an example of what we want in all of our kids. He comes in every day with a dedication to get better and is ready to work.
“You’ve got to have an edge at this level, and to me, it’s those guys who realize they have to continuously work on that edge. And that edge is in the weight room. Craig has figured that out.”
Sanders hasn’t maxed out at Auburn in any of the lifts, but Yoxall said his projected max in the power clean is 308 pounds and 350 pounds on the bench-press.
“Now, that number might not be impressive to a lot of people, but we do a variety of different lifts,” Yoxall said. “I’m not a big bench-press guy. You play on your feet. I’ve yet to see many players play on their backs.”
Sanders is also a legitimate 500-pound squatter.
“Anything that’s legitimate and is above 480 or 485 pounds is good,” Yoxall said. “There’s a lot of lip service given to squats, but a lot of it gets back to how they’re being done.
“I don’t get hung up on numbers anyway. I get hung up on how the players are doing and how it helps them on the field.”
The other thing Yoxall gets hung up on is how hard a player pushes himself in the strength and conditioning program.
Currently, the Tigers are in the middle of doing a lot of running, and as the days get hotter, those guys who are the most driven usually end up leading the pack.
Sanders has consistently been one of those guys.
“I’m talking about full gassers, the stuff kids usually hate, and this kid [Sanders] is running right up there with the linebackers at 266 pounds,” Yoxall said. “Those are the guys you try to find, the guys who are intrinsically motivated and aren’t afraid to run up front.
“If you get a bunch of those guys, your team’s going to be all right.”