Markus Sanders burned his initials onto the valley sports scene with his eye-catching football season at Pitman High. Six months later, he conquered another discipline — the discus.
But when you ask him which sport he prefers, the Pitman graduate answers, "I'm an athlete."
Sanders' performance last weekend at the CIF State Track and Field Championships elevated him to a new level. He recorded personal bests both during the trials (180 feet, 6 inches) and the finals (185-6) en route to fourth place, thus becoming the first Turlock male to medal (top six) at the State Meet in 48 years.
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That was more than enough for Sanders to be named The Bee's Boys Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
Sanders was watched closely during the State Trials last Friday by Modesto Junior College football coach Sam Young. The Pitman star soon will carry the football for the Pirates, who can use the skills of a 225-pound running back who rushed for 1,629 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Pride last fall.
With the discus in his hand, Sanders flashes a different kind of nimble footwork, good timing and, of course, immense strength. While others struggled with the wind gusts at Clovis' Buchanan High, Sanders adjusted.
Better still, he smiled and chatted with his competitors and did not let the high-pressure event consume him.
"He enjoyed the experience," Pitman coach Thad Moren said. "Some of the guys walked away and didn't want to listen to him."
Sanders' improvement the final month of the season surprised everyone. The year before, after he won his second of three straight Central California Conference discus titles, his season ended due to an academic suspension.
Outside football, he still had not made major headlines as a senior until the Stanislaus County meet at MJC. He threw so far that afternoon that the 165-foot-long tape measure couldn't reach his mark. For the record, he had tossed 179 feet.
"We had to shut down the whole meet until they found a longer tape measure," Moren said. "That throw made us refocus on some higher goals."
Sanders improved his technique through repetition and video homework. Moren often rolled out a tractor tire as a target for discus throwers.
One day, Sanders whistled one about 170 feet into the tire circle on the fly.
"It was like hitting a full-court shot," Moren said. His student was making progress.
"I told coach the night before the CCCs, 'You've got four more weeks to coach me this year,' " Sanders promised.
At the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I Championships, Sanders — sleep-deprived after Grad Night at Disneyland — finished third at 171-4.
The following week at Section Masters at Sacramento, Sanders faced two challenges — finishing in the top three to qualify for State, and doing it quickly. Pitman's commencement was that night.
Worse, he slipped on his first attempt and fouled on the next. He had one throw left to either place in the top three or hit the qualifying standard of 169-1.
"Coach told me to slow down," Sanders said.
He responded with a 170-2 and, armed with his ticket to State, forfeited his final three throws and dashed home. For the record, he made it back on time.
"I always knew I had it in me," Sanders said. "Everything just came together. I thank God that everything went the way I wanted it."
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2302.