When Kelle Sanders, a Washington State University commit, arrives in Pullman next year, he is projected to play defensive end.
That’s the position he was recruited for, not as a quarterback.
But, at River Ridge High School, Sanders has put together an impressive year on the side of the ball he will likely say farewell to at season’s end.
Through 10 games, Sanders, a senior, is 72 of 133 passing for 1,298 yards and 15 touchdowns, and has led the Hawks to the Class 2A state quarterfinals for only the second time in program history.
And this is his first year as a varsity quarterback.
“Inside him, he’s got that ability,” River Ridge coach Steve Schultz said. “He’s worked really hard. The more he focuses on winning, with his ability and athleticism, he’s going to put the ball wherever he wants.”
He often does. His composure in the pocket, as well as his ability to read the defense, has helped River Ridge’s offense put up an average of 43.1 points per game this season.
This after largely being limited todefense his junior year. That is, after all, what he’s going to college for. But right now, Sanders said he’s more dialed in on helping his team reach the end zone.
“I think about offense more right now,” Sanders said. “I have to lead my team. You can’t win games without scoring points, so I have to think about what the defense is doing.
“Last year, I always just watched what the other team’s tackles were doing. What’s their left tackle’s first step? What’s their right tackle’s first step? What are their tendencies?”
How that has changed.
“Now, I have to watch their corners, their linebackers, their defensive line, their safeties — everything,” Sanders said. “I pretty much pull up a game and watch the whole thing. Last year, I watched five plays.”
The expanded responsibilities on the football field have helped Sanders mature, said Paddy Green, a River Ridge senior who has known Sanders since the two played in the Black Hills Junior Football League.
“He matured really quick after he realized what position he was in, and how he could verbally lead,” Green said. “The (college) offers showed him that he has a gift, so he’s going to have to step up and lead. With this run we’re trying to make for the state championship, someone has to lead, and he stepped up.”
Sanders said playing quarterback has helped him develop as a leader.
“I had to become more of a vocal leader and lead by actions,” he said. “Being the quarterback, other people are going to watch you. You’re the face of the team in a way.”
Schultz said what has brought Sanders so far so fast is his knowledge of the game. Sometimes he’ll finish coaches’ sentences.
His ability to make adjustments continues to impress Schultz. He’s worked on throwing at different distances. The other day at practice, his passes were coming in low, so Schultz had him point his shoulder.
Then? He was firing it straight.
“You put all of that together, and his desire to win, and you’ve got a guy at the helm who’s pretty doggone good,” Schultz said.
Sanders has still been a factor on defense (21 tackles, two sacks and a 27-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown), and was named the 2A South Puget Sound League’s Sound Division MVP.
He had two long touchdown passes to Ryan Blash (57 and 61 yards) last week in the first round of the state playoffs — where River Ridge lost the past two seasons — as the Hawks topped W.F. West, 35-7.
River Ridge (9-1) will play in the state quarterfinals for the first time since 1998 at 7 p.m. Saturday against Liberty (10-0).
“It’s great,” Sanders said. “We’re more free, but we still have work to do.”