Tim Flanders, Sam Houston State’s sensational sophomore running back from Midwest City, Oklahoma, has earned plenty of post-season attention in the Bearkats’ drive to the NCAA Division I National Championship Game.
He finished 7th in the 2011 Walter Payton Award voting for the top offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision. He has been selected to every All-America squad announced this winer including the America Football Coaches Association, the Sports Network and Associated Press squads.
He stands No. 2 in the nation in scoring and ranked No. 27 nationally in rushing yardage per game. He was named as Southland Conference “Player of the Year” following the regular season.
University of Montana head coach Robin Pflugrad praised the running back after the sophomore torched the Grizzlies’ defense for a school record 287 rushing yards in the NCAA national semifinals.
“Flanders has a great jump cut, and he looks like Barry Sanders on the jump cut,” Pflugrad said. “There’s nobody else I can compare him to other than that.”
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Flanders wears the No. 20 that Sanders donned throughout his Hall of Fame career.
Flanders’ exploits in the semifinals helped the Bearkats hold on for a 31-28 victory that sent them to their first national championship game. Sam Houston State (14-0) will face No. 2 seed North Dakota State (13-1) on Jan. 7 at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco.
Flanders, who broke McNeil Moore’s record of 286 rushing yards set against Lamar in 1951, essentially put the game out of reach with a 22-yard run on fourth-and-1 from the Sam Houston State 47-yard line with just over two minutes left in the game. Flanders had been stuffed for no gain on the previous play, but he found a seam up the middle on his second try before bouncing outside to the left and falling down inbounds instead of trying to score to keep the clock running.
Flanders had a 69-yard touchdown run earlier in the game and rushed for 63 yards on the final drive. He picked up another first down in the final drive that allowed the Bearkats to set up their victory formation before a capacity crowd of 12,367 at Bowers Stadium.
“What a game,” Bearkats coach Willie Fritz said afterwards. “They’ve been playing football here for 96 years, and he establishes the single-game rushing record. That’s the best I’ve seen him since I guess the New Mexico game. He had an unbelievable game at New Mexico, but boy he was hot tonight.”
Mindset of a champion
Fritz is no longer surprised by anything Flanders (1,559 rushing yards, 24 total TDs) does, but he might not have seen this type of dominance coming back when the latter transferred to Sam Houston State from Kansas State in August 2010. Flanders had committed to Kansas State after graduating from Midwest City High School in Midwest City, Okla., but decided he needed a change of scenery after redshirting during his only season there.
Flanders (5-9, 210 pounds) was a star at Midwest City, rushing for 2,134 yards and 34 touchdowns as a senior in 2008 and finishing his high school career with more than 5,000 yards rushing and 65 touchdowns. His former high school coach, Steve Huff, was a colleague of Sam Houston State offensive line coach Derek Warehime and helped Flanders becoming acquainted with the Bearkats’ coaching staff.
At the time, Fritz had been at the helm for eight months and was trying to turn around the moribund program with a roster containing mostly freshmen and sophomores. Flanders proved to be a crucial addition, rushing for 948 yards and 13 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman to help the Bearkats finish 6-5 last season.
Flanders has been more impressive in his sophomore campaign to help lead the Bearkats to an improbable undefeated season and berth in the national title game.
In 24 games as a Bearkat, Flanders already has set 12 Sam Houston
football records. He started his sophomore season ranked 31st in Bearkat career rushing. He now stands 3rd, 180 yards behind career leader Charles Harris (1991-94) who gained 2,688 yards.
Flanders’ 24 touchdowns and 144 points are Southland league season marks. His 2011 season total of 1,560 yards is the fourth highest single season total in league history. The Southland record is 1,593 yards by Claude Mathis of Southwest Texas State in 1997.
“It feels great,” Flanders said. “Coach Warehime told me before I got down here that coach Fritz had a really good staff and that they wanted to build a team of champions. That’s exactly what he’s doing right now.”
Flanders, who was held to just 38 rushing yards in the Bearkats 49-13 win over Montana State in last weekend’s semifinals, was modest when commenting on Friday’s performance, chalking it up as another day at the office.
His teammates, however, didn’t hold back their praise.
“(He) makes our job so much easier,” sophomore quarterback Brian Bell said. “He’s the most modest guy on the team and takes no credit for anything, but he’s the best offensive player out there who we’ve all played with.”