How productive was Travis Sanders during the 2011 high school football season for the St. Clair Bulldogs?

Despite missing the first four games of the season after suffering a separated shoulder during the Bulldogs’ jamboree, Sanders still was named the Four Rivers Conference defensive player of the year.

When Sanders played, he made a big difference on both sides of the ball at running back and defensive end.

“Travis was easily the best player in the area,” said St. Clair Head Football Coach Cody McDowell.

Sanders will take his football talents to Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau.

Southeast is an NCAA Division I school that plays in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Sanders also considered offers from NCAA Division I schools Northern Iowa and South Dakota, along with NCAA Division II school Washburn, but decided to go with the Redhawks of SEMO.

“It’s closer to home, so it will be easier for my family and friends to watch me play. It’s exciting to get a chance to play Division I football,” Sanders said. “They also offer the major I’m interested in, which is horticulture. I like the layout of the campus and I also like the coaching staff.”

Due to the fact that St. Clair had good depth and balance and that Sanders missed the first four games of the season, his statistics on the season don’t jump out to anyone.

To understand how effective and important Sanders was to the team, you had to be a part of the St. Clair squad or at least around for most of the games.

Sanders finished the season with 39 total tackles, including 11 1/2 tackles for loss and 1 1/2 sacks.

“It felt good to be named the defensive player of the year in the conference,” said Sanders, also a second team all-state selection in Class 4. “My shoulder isn’t a problem anymore. It feels fine.”

Offensively, Sanders carried the ball 34 times for 259 yards, an average of 7.6 yards per attempt.

“Travis ran the ball hard,” McDowell said. “We took away some of his carries at the end of the season to give his shoulder a break.”

The FRC’s coaches saw his importance to the Bulldogs with the defensive player of the year selection.

When Sanders returned from his injury, the Bulldogs took off. They won five straight games, improving their overall record to 7-2.

In those five games, St. Clair’s defense allowed a total of 41 points.

“When Travis came back from his injury, it made a huge difference to the team,” McDowell said. “He was probably the best leader on our team. Considering it was his first year at defensive end, it made his accomplishments even more special. He played linebacker in previous seasons. He could have been the player of the year at linebacker, too. With his size and frame, we thought defensive end was a better fit for him.”

At 6-2, 230 pounds, Sanders will play defensive end at Southeast Missouri.

“I like rushing off the edge and getting to the quarterback. I think my quickness is one of my strengths,” Sanders said. “I need to keep working and try to get bigger for the college game.”

Sanders was a regular contributor on the varsity level at St. Clair for three seasons and even saw varsity playing time as a freshman.

“We had good success here at St Clair over the last four years,” Sanders said. “My senior year, I’ll always remember our game with Union (21-20 loss) and our win over Sullivan (19-6). Both of them were great games against two of our biggest rivals.”

McDowell believes Sanders will have a successful career at Southeast Missouri.

“Southeast Missouri did a good job recruiting him. Northern Iowa and South Dakota also showed a lot of interest,” McDowell said. “I think Southeast is a good fit for him. He’s a tough, blue-collar kid. I think he’ll be able to make an impact once they’re ready for him. It’s a great opportunity.”

Travis plans to major in horticulture at Southeast Missouri. He is the son of Roger and Gina Sanders.