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Special end to Sanders’ reserved, hard-working college career

Special end to Sanders’ reserved, hard-working college career


Peter Burnett

An FCS National Champion with South Dakota State on Jan. 8, former Glenwood Ram Caleb Sanders is the epitome of a quiet, reserved leader who works hard.

From an early age, Sanders was shaped by how he reacted to the death of his father when he was seven years old.

Always in competition with his older brothers Cody, six years his senior, and Kyle, who was a closer competitor to just two years his senior, Caleb’s mother, Angela Griffin, said he grew up wanting to show he could keep up with his brothers.

Caleb Sanders with brothers.JPG

Caleb Sanders (front center) with his brothers Cody and Kyle.

Thanks to Angela Griffin

When his father died, I don’t know if Caleb was really into sports (then), Griffin said. It certainly touched him, and we always tell him that his fathers are watching him from heaven and that he would be very proud if he had a big win (or loss).

Griffin added that playing sports and trying to do what anyone asked of him was a positive outcome of the loss.

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Losing a parent can go in the exact opposite direction and have no positive impact, Griffin said.

As he continued to develop, Sanders began to show his abilities at an early age.

I sort of knew from watching Caleb in high school that he has a special ability. He was a pretty big kid, but he could also run, said Glenwood head football coach Corey Faust.

Once Sanders reached high school, he really started lifting weights from his freshman year.

He just had a passion for picking up and lifting everything, Faust added. He was also very consistent in coming in the morning.

Rams athletic director Jeff Bissen added that it was not initially clear that Sanders would stand out.

I’d say as a freshman in high school, I don’t know if you wouldn’t necessarily realize that he had the potential to be a successful next-level student-athlete, Bissen said. But maybe when he got into sophomore, junior, he continued to work hard in the weight room and kind of set himself apart from other people in his class.

By the time Sanders was a junior, he combined another engine with the shy, fun-loving personality to emerge as a leader who Bissen said people like to be around.

Sanders with nana.JPG

Caleb Sanders (left) with his ‘nana’ Lana.

Thanks to Angela Griffin

Of his coaches Adam Buthe, defensive line coach at Glenwood, and Brad Asche, who coached Sanders in football and wrestling, who Sanders said influenced him the most (along with Faust), the defensive lineman really came onto the scene as a sophomore for the Rams varsity team in their season opener against Red Oak.

Buthe, whose job it was to break through the defensive line, was amazed at what he saw of the young Sanders.

I couldn’t believe the impact he had as a sophomore, Buthe said. In the coaching meeting after that, he asked, Did anyone notice Caleb, the way he just dominated the line? Because you notice in the game sometimes they don’t even get the tackle, just dominate the line of scrimmage, and I remember seeing and I knew right away, these kids are going to be special.

Both coaches also emphasized the translation of football to the wrestling mat and wrestling on the football field, especially in the mindset it takes to win, which is exactly what Sanders did as state champion in 2018.


Class 3-A No. 1 Caleb Sanders of Glenwood, top, pins Red Oak’s Liam Mahoney during their 285-pound contest on Tuesday, January 4.

Staff photo / Joe Shearer

A lot of people would put it off, and he just looked at the corner and smiled, like, ‘I’m going to win this game by a point, it doesn’t matter, you can’t stop me,’ Asche said.

I think the two certainly translate to each other, Sanders added. Part is just being able to be scrappy and get off blocks, especially with the alignment. Being able to work and use your hands. And then in awkward positions, being able to work your way out of those positions. Having a wrestling background definitely made me more comfortable in some of those situations.

Sanders was on the football field for almost every snap, every snap that mattered. Faust tackled and was a key part of Glenwood’s qualification for their first trip to the playoffs in a while with his durability.

Glenwood football makes first playoffs

Glenwood players #34 Jake Clark and #40 Jon Staves hold the trophy at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls.

BH Media News Service photo/Tom Knapp

His durability, being strong and being able to do that at our level, playing every snap at a high level, on both sides of the ball is quite rare, Faust said.

The Rams were able to return to the playoffs in his junior year, as they pulled off a 30-27 victory over Carroll to reach the state semifinals in the UNI Dome, which Sanders said was his favorite moment at Glenwood.

After graduation, Sanders made an immediate impact at South Dakota State, finishing fifth on the team in tackles for losses with seven and playing in all 13 games as a true freshman.

The starting nose tackle in 2019, Sanders began to establish himself as a reliable force in the interior of the Jackrabbits defense line.

Then in his junior season in 2020-21, the six-foot tall tackle led the team with five sacks and finished third with seven tackles for loss as the Jackrabbits clinched the FCS National Championship, but fell to Sam Houston State 23- 21 during the spring playoffs.

The Jackrabbits fell one step early in 2021, and the losses when they were close made this year’s win even more special for Sanders and his teammates.

It was definitely special after being so close several times in the past, Sanders said. Especially getting the first one for the program I think will definitely be something that we will clearly remember for the rest of our lives. Even the guys that came before us, I know how excited they were that we finally had one.

Battling through adversity, particularly defense injuries, South Dakota State won 45-21 on January 8 against North Dakota State in Frisco, Texas.

We’ve just learned to rise above it and that there’s no excuse for not being able to perform no matter who’s out there, added Sanders, who finished with 9.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.

Seeing Sanders win the national championship, Faust was very happy to see the hard work pay off, while Asche said it was surreal.

It was great to see his hard work and dedication, everything is finally being paid back, Ashce said.

It’s great, Buthe added. And I think he deserves it very well. And frankly, it’s no surprise that he’s had success. He is an extremely hard worker. He was always a very modest, quite quiet boy, but he was always so reliable and never missed training sessions. I’ve never heard him make excuses.

Glenwood athletic director Jeff Bissen hopes the success for Sanders proves two key points of local impact: people will find you (athletes), and good things happen when you stick around, as evidenced by Sanders and Lewis Central grad Max Duggan, who as runner-up Heisman Trophy voted and led TCU to the FBS National Championship Game.

No matter how good you are, people will come looking for you, Bissen said. Often we think we have to play at the highest level. In reality, if you are good enough to play at the next level, people will find you.

If you look at Max and Caleb, they have a pretty good story and a really good experience. But in the transfer portal era, those guys stuck around for four or five years and just really tried to be the best version of themselves. They bought into the team concept.

Sanders also wanted to advise local athletes that size doesn’t matter as an undersized D tackle.

I was still able to get all the accolades I was and just keep working to get better every day, no matter what physical limitations I might have because of my size, he said.

Sanders, a product of southwest Iowa, hopes that recruiting coverage will increase and misconceptions about the level of competition will be shattered.

People may think that’s a lesser place with less talent, Sanders said. Council Bluffs, that’s a pretty big area, but there are always kids in small towns that can play and hopefully they see that.

Looking to the future, Sanders hopes to form a professional team this spring, and Asche expects to reach that goal and be successful.

I hope he gets invited to the NFL Combine so he can really show people[his talent]Asche said. If you give him a chance, he’ll get to work.

Asche added that his own son and many of the younger kids around Glenwood look up to Sanders.

In his post-football future, Buthe sees Sanders, a South Dakota early childhood education major, as a teacher or coach.

When I watch him play football on TV, I just know that if someone gives him a chance, I think it will pay off, Buthe said. If it doesn’t work out after that time, I think after that career he plans to teach and I think he will become active in coaching. Probably football and I don’t know about wrestling or not but yeah I think football is going to be a big part of his life here for quite some time.




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