Penn State Football

Philadelphia Eagles RB Miles Sanders embracing NFL opportunity: ‘It’s everything I could dream of’

Trace McSorley, Miles Sanders discuss following each other’s NFL careers

Former Penn State teammates Trace McSorley and Miles Sanders met up at the Philadelphia Eagles' practice facility as part of a joint practice between them and the Baltimore Ravens.
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Former Penn State teammates Trace McSorley and Miles Sanders met up at the Philadelphia Eagles' practice facility as part of a joint practice between them and the Baltimore Ravens.

Miles Sanders still needs to pinch himself after most practices.

The former Penn State star is living his boyhood dream as the Philadelphia Eagles’ rising rookie running back, not just playing in the NFL but already impressing. So, whenever he returns home after a day of training, he can’t help but reflect — at least for a little.

“I’ll just be sitting home and thinking, ‘I’m really in the NFL,’” Sanders said with a smile, after a recent Eagles practice. “And then I’m like, ‘Snap out of it. Let’s go watch some film.’ It’s a blessing; it’s really a blessing.”

The Eagles’ front office might be pinching itself, too. Despite missing the spring with a nagging hamstring injury, the second-round pick has proved to be a quick study and is already widely regarded as team’s best back over veterans like Jordan Howard, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles.

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Les Bowen referred to Sanders as the “offensive star of camp.” FanSided believes he could be the steal of the 2019 NFL draft. And fantasy football websites, from Sports Illustrated to CBS Sports, love his potential for production.

Sanders appreciates all the love. But he’s still trying to take it all in.

“It’s been cool. Sheesh, I can’t really explain it,” he said. “It’s surreal, just going through the flow and taking it one day at a time. I’m learning from the best, especially guys like (veteran RB Darren) Sproles, so it’s surreal. It’s kind of hit me but I don’t know, man. It’s everything I could dream of.”

Sanders, who rushed for 1,274 yards as a Nittany Lion last season, has been making the most of his NFL opportunity. He’s already considered so valuable to the team that he was rested for the third preseason game, stepping on the field just once to return the opening kickoff — which was a touchback.

And he already has a handful of plays to add to his highlight reel. During the Aug. 15 preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, his power and 4.49-speed were on display the entire first half. But, on maybe his most memorable play, he took a handoff against a loaded box, bounced outside to evade some would-be tacklers, broke two tackles and then carried several defenders another handful of yards for a 16-yard gain.

“That boy is a beast, man. You’re going to see. Oooh, I like him,” defensive end Brandon Graham told ESPN ahead of the preseason. “I don’t want to give out too much. I’m going to let him be a surprise to some.”

Through it all, from the night Sanders was drafted April 26 to last week’s practices at NovaCare Complex, the western Pennsylvania native has made it a point not to get too far ahead of himself. He insists he has no rookie milestones or stat goals at this point; he’s just trying to continue the Penn State mantra of taking everything one day at a time.

That might sound cliche, but there’s no arguing with the results. Analysts wondered aloud this offseason about Sanders’ blocking ability and ball security. But he’s improved noticeably in those two areas, even earning praise for one of his preseason blitz pick-ups on backup QB Clayton Thorson.

“I feel like I’m coming along good,” Sanders said. “When you take things one day at a time, you’re able to focus on one thing and everything slows down for you. ... As far as life, all you can do is focus on one day. As long as you maximize that one day, you’re doing something right.”

With that philosophy, Sanders is also trying to express gratitude every day for living his NFL dream. After a recent practice, when thunderstorms forced a few players to exit the field early, Sanders lingered to talk with an Eagles fan with Down syndrome, Clyde.

“I want to see you as a kickoff returner and I want you to score a touchdown,” Clyde told Sanders before offering some pointers on touchdown celebrations. Sanders thanked him, posed for photos and then handed his white gloves to a starstruck Clyde. (“Really?!”)

“These fans are lovely; they remind me of Penn State,” Sanders said. “A little crazier, but they remind me of Penn State. They’re die-hard fans. They’re rough on you, but they told me as long as I show I got heart, they’ll love me forever. I love these fans.”

Sanders walked off the field a few minutes later, undoubtedly heading home soon after — maybe to pinch himself once more.

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