Anytime Miles Sanders is asked about his workload, he says the same things. He doesn’t care about touches, he’ll do whatever the coaching staff wants him to do, he just wants to win.
Jo-El Shaw knows he means it.
Because when asked about the origin of his unselfishness on Thursday, of course Sanders mentioned his situation at Penn State, when he had to sit behind Saquon Barkley for a couple seasons. But he also brought up his days at Woodland Hills High School, when he shared carries with another talented teammate.
That teammate was Shaw, who saw that selflessness in Sanders firsthand.
“He wants to win. He wants to win,” Shaw said, repeating himself for emphasis to NBC Sports Philadelphia on Thursday. “I’m not going to say he doesn’t care about the numbers because everybody cares about the numbers. But he’s not going to go out of his way to get his numbers to sacrifice the team. He’s a team success guy and you can tell that he’s driven to win. He has a winning attitude.”
By the way, the numbers for Sanders this season are very good. Although he has missed several games with injury, Sanders is third in the NFL in yards per rushing attempt at 6.0, behind just Kyler Murray (6.9) and Nick Chubb (6.1).
Despite that level of success, the Eagles haven’t really used him as much as they probably should. Sanders is 14th in the NFL with 519 rushing yards but is just 30th in attempts with 86.
Does that frustrate him?
“Honestly, not at all. Y'all not gonna get me,” Sanders said with a laugh. “I'm sorry, but I'm a team player, man. I'm willing to do whatever it takes. When my number's called, I'm going to do what I do. When it's not, I'm going to do whatever I can to help whoever else's number is called, whether it's blocking, being the lead blocker or doing whatever, so I'm not ever questioning my workload or anything, I trust the coaches and the coaches trust me, and that's all it is.”
It’s hard to really believe that a running back is this unselfish but Shaw on Thursday said Sanders is really like that. And he’s always been like that.
During their senior seasons at Woodland Hills, they were a truly dynamic pair. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in their senior seasons, Sanders had 1,523 yards (11.2 per carry) and Shaw had 1,342 yards (8.3). And then both played for the Pennsylvania All-Stars in the Big 33 classic.
When Sanders and Shaw played together, they were competitive, sure, but they also rooted for one another. There were never any feelings of ill will. If each of them getting carries helped the team, then they were willing to share.
So Sanders has always been selfless when it comes to touches and stats.
When Sanders and Shaw entered high school, Sanders was playing varsity ball right away but Shaw played for the freshman team in ninth grade. But in their sophomore seasons with the Wolverines, both were integrated into the backfield and, of course, Shaw began to eat into Sanders’ potential workload.
Even back then, Sanders dealt with the situation the way he deals with every situation.
“Miles handled it the best way he could have,” Shaw said. “He handled it the way a leader should have. He made sure there wasn’t any turmoil. He didn’t go out of the way to make somebody feel lesser than. With his nature, his aura, it makes you want to be better. Working with him is not a problem. Sharing with him is not a problem. Because you know that he’s not selfish. He’s not a selfish person. That’s something his mother gave him. I think that’s something he got from his parents. That’s something that not everybody has.”
After high school, Shaw went on a journey that eventually led him to Kent State in the 2018 and 2019 seasons but he always kept an eye on Sanders at Penn State and even got to play against him back in 2018.
From afar, Shaw watched as Sanders had to wait his turn behind Barkley during the 2016 and 2017 seasons in Happy Valley, but he always knew Sanders’ time was coming. Shaw was confident because he knew behind the scenes, Sanders was still preparing the way he always had.
“He’s one of the hardest workers I know, so you have to respect it,” Shaw said.
Shaw and Sanders aren’t in contact too often these days but they’ll catch up here and there. Shaw says he understands Sanders is a busy man. But they’ll always be linked and Sanders’ success in the NFL is a motivating factor for Shaw, who still has NFL aspirations of his own.
Sanders is still just 23 and appears to be a rising star in the NFL. At times, at least from the outside, it seems like he’s not being used to his full potential, but Sanders is a patient guy.
And while plenty of folks will call for him to get more touches, you’re never going to hear him complain about his workload.
“I’m all about winning,” Sanders said. “That's all I really care about, so if two running backs are balling instead of one, or the running game's not going well and the passing game's going well, then I'm not going to be over there tripping saying I still need the rock some way. If we're winning, I don't care. That's just how I am.”
And that’s the way he’s always been.
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