TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (BVM) — The season-ending injuries that occur before the leaves even fall are always the worst.
On Dec. 19, 2018, five-star running back recruit Trey Sanders committed to the University of Alabama. The nation’s No. 6 ranked player was full of confidence.
“As a freshman at Alabama, I do plan on winning the Heisman,” Sanders said during the signing period. “This is my Heisman chapter.”
Seven months later, that dream would never become a reality.
On Aug. 8, 2019, Sanders suffered a foot injury on the final play of practice. This would sideline him for the entire season.
After a year of recovering from surgery, Sanders played four games until an even worse injury occurred off the field. On Nov. 6, 2020, Sanders had multiple fractures, including a broken hip in a car accident, that would change his perspective on football.
“You appreciate everything a whole lot more,” Sanders said to On3.com. “I say that – since I’ve been going through this process of not playing football – I actually learned a lot about myself outside of football. I realized what I want to do one day after I’m done playing the game. And hopefully, when I’m done playing football, I’m able to do the same thing I was when I was playing the game: inspiring people.”
For someone who was considered to be the next best college football running back two years earlier, Sanders understood his dreams of reaching the NFL grew slimmer.
The injuries were not life-threatening but would force him to miss another season at Alabama. Instead of wearing pads and cleats, he was in a wheelchair and eventually a scooter.
Two people that gave Sanders hope in his next era of rehab were Alabama director of football rehabilitation Jeremy Gsell and head football coach Nick Saban.
“I think Coach Saban was the main person who kept me going throughout that process because there were those times when I felt like I couldn’t do it,” Sanders said. “I wasn’t able to go out there and practice, and Coach Saban called me into a meeting, and he’ll talk to me, and he gave me hope on the future.
Like Sanders, Gsell knew that the running back may never see the field again. Gsell’s rehab ideas were not only brand new for Sanders, but for Gsell as well.
After months of nonstop rehabilitation, Gsell and Saban determined that the hopeful halfback would be healthy for Week One of the 2021 season against the University of Miami.
“He’s really worked his tail off, and there would be nobody on our team that I would be more happy to see have success,” Saban said to Sports Illustrated.
With a little over seven minutes left in the third quarter, up 34-3, Sanders was called on to lead the drive. The hopeful running back had waited two years for this moment.
Sanders took over the drive. Sanders had multiple big gains including a touchdown from 20 yards out.
After the touchdown run, Sanders sprinted to the sideline and hugged Gsell. After the game, Sanders expressed his appreciation for Gselle.
“He isn’t my blood family, but he is family to me,” Sanders said. “The fact he stuck with me these past two years, even though there were times I wanted to give up, means so much. I can’t really put into words what he means to me, but he means more than anyone could imagine.”
Sanders finished the game with eight carries for 41 yards and a touchdown.
“There’s probably nobody on our team that has had more adversity and more things to to overcome…So I was as happy as I’ll get out to see him score a touchdown today,” Saban said in the post-game press conference.
Trey Sanders is entering his junior year at Alabama. Hopefully, he’ll get another shot at the Heisman Trophy, and of course, the NFL.