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|A champion comes home|
West Monroe's Luke Sanders, a 6-5, 245-lb. standout linebacker at LSU, breathed a huge sigh of relief once the final whistle blew Monday night, signaling the end of the Bowl Championship Series title game between the Tigers and the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Sanders, a senior, was ecstatic over playing a vital role in LSU's march to the national title.
"It's pretty amazing," Sanders said Tuesday in a telephone interview with The Ouachita Citizen while en route with his family from New Orleans to West Monroe.
"It's really starting to sink in now," Sanders said. "We had a wild time of it last night, but it'll begin to get back to reality soon."
Sanders has a week off before returning to LSU for his final semester. He needs nine hours of class work to complete his degree in business management.
In LSU's 38-24 win over the Buckeyes to claim its second national title in five years and its third in the history of the football program, Sanders made key plays when they counted the most.
"When we started to dominate on offense and the defense started making the big plays, is when I knew we had it won," said Sanders, who recorded two tackles against the Buckeyes.
Sanders knew at the beginning of the season the 2007 version of the Tigers was special. "I could sense the mood," Sanders said. "Everything went like clockwork."
In the meantime, Sanders said he would finish school and await the NFL draft, which rolls around in April.
"I'm open to any suggestions right now," Sanders said.
Sanders' father, Casey, the strength coach at West Monroe High School, joined more than a dozen family and friends in New Orleans to watch the Tigers play.
It was "a very exciting weekend," Casey Sanders said.
"We had a large family group there with grandparents and brothers," Casey Sanders continued. "We had a big party and just had a great time. We talked with Luke before the game and when they got down 10-0, my wife got a little nervous, but I told her nothing is ever easy and I felt confident in them, so I wasn't surprised at all when they came back.
"It was more enjoyable, I think, to come back from behind. I knew they had a lot of fight in them," Casey Sanders added.
As far as a career in the NFL, the elder Sanders said he and his son have not discussed that during young Sanders' four years at LSU. They haven't begun talking about it now either.
"We're just celebrating the national championship and concentrating on the present," Casey Sanders said. "Maybe sometime when he gets back to school, he'll get an agent and go through free agency."
Speaking of family, Luke Sanders made it a point to ask one member of the media to include his mother, Sharon Sanders, in this article.
"She is one of the reasons I am where I am today," Luke Sanders said. "If it wasn't for her, I couldn't have accomplished any of this."
Yet, Sanders' success on the gridiron at LSU was anticipated. He enjoyed a stellar career playing linebacker at West Monroe high. He played special teams for the Rebels as a freshman. That team won the state 5-A title in 2000. That club also was tapped as national champions.
All along in high school, Sanders proved to be one of West Monroe's most consistent ball players who utilized every bit of his raw talent.
"He's a good athlete who always played a notch higher," said Don Shows, West Monroe's veteran coach who can point to five former players who won national championships at WMHS and LSU.
"He always worked very, very hard," Shows said. "He's special."
(Scott Rogers, news editor for The Ouachita Citizen, and Sam Hanna Jr., publisher of The Ouachita Citizen, contributed to this report.)