Barry Sanders Jr. Stanford, Barry James Sanders planted his feet and bounced right, leaving a defender grabbing at air. His broad shoulders withstood another arm-tackle as he hurried upfield, where he found himself surrounded. To even his mother’s surprise, Sanders then hurdled his own blocker, sprinted for a 64-yard touchdown, and escaped the shadow of his own name, if only for one play.
“That’s the run that made me think, this is his father’s son,” said Andy Bogert, who coached Sanders for four years at Heritage Hall High School in Oklahoma City.
The run, during the semifinals of the state playoffs in Sanders’s freshman season, was an introduction, a burst of bottled-up potential and athletically divine DNA. It was a step out of the shadow of his father, the Hall of Famer Barry Sanders. On Wednesday, Sanders took another step, signing a national letter of intent to play running back at Stanford.
Sanders is hardly the first son of a famous athlete to try his hand at sports. Trey Griffey, son of the second-generation baseball star Ken Griffey Jr., committed to play college football at Arizona on Wednesday, which was national signing day, and offensive tackle Kyle Long, son of the Hall of Famer Howie Long, signed with Oregon out of a junior college.
But few inspire comparisons like Sanders, who shares a name, a sport and a position with his father, who won a Heisman Trophy and shattered N.C.A.A. records at Oklahoma State.
“I try to emulate him,” Sanders said in a phone interview last week.
Sanders’s mother, Aletha House, gave him her father’s name as a middle name to deliberately separate her son from his father. But Sanders does not correct strangers when they incorrectly call him Barry Sanders Jr. His given name was a last-minute decision by Sanders’s paternal grandmother, Shirley.
After Sanders’s breakthrough run, as others saw similarities between father and son, House could still tell the differences between them. Sanders’s strides were too tall to be his father’s, and the son’s celebratory fist-pumps would have looked strange coming from the elder Sanders, who is quiet and hates attention.
But in many other ways, Sanders is so like his father: his smile; the way he walks with his tree-trunk legs; the nervous-sounding, awkward laughs he lets out in midconversation.
Barry James Sanders was destined to be a running back. A swimming instructor once told House her son’s legs would not float like the other children’s because his were too heavy.