By Daniel Johnson-Kim, Editor in Chief
Six men huddle in a circle, while the quarterback draws a play on his hand with his finger.
“Line up with four guys on the left, and everyone rainbow across,” whispers Jeff McDuff, senior accounting major from Indianapolis. “Satch, you hike the ball and peel off to the left. When it opens up, I’ll try to find you.”
“Got it,” the center says in response.
Each player slowly jogs to his position on the line. Satch grips the ball. He hikes it, and four receivers curl to the right. The defenders quickly follow.
McDuff tosses the ball away from the action toward a sprinting 55-year-old man wide open in the left corner of the end zone.
“Nobody suspects him!” McDuff shouts after Larry “Satch” Sanders pulls down the ball for the touchdown.
“I told you to watch Satch,” one defender shouts at a teammate.
“I did and I still got burned,” the college student yells back.
The ‘Old Guy’
Brady Hilton loves it when opponents underestimate Larry “Satch” Sanders; it’s an advantage when they write off the “old guy.”
“We were playing Galaxy, and one of their guys warming up asked me, ‘Is that guy playing with you, how old is he?'” said Hilton, who has played with Sanders for two seasons on the Frater Sodalis alumni intramural football team.
That is the general reaction to seeing Satch playing on Larry “Satch” Sanders Intramural field. But the field carries his name for a reason; don’t judge the center by his blue knee braces.
“They don’t see him as much of a threat because he’s older,” Hilton said. “That is until he’s down field 10 yards, uncovered, and they’re getting beat by him.”
Satch, the nickname Sanders has carried since his junior year of high school, has served as the senior sponsor for the men’s social club for more than 30 years and has been playing intramural football for 37 consecutive years. His first season at ACU was in 1971 when he and men living on the third floor of Mabee Hall competed together. There, his love affair with intramural football began.
“It was just very, very exciting to be absorbed into the game,” Sanders said of the beginning of his career. “To become excited from that close fellowship you have as a team. That’s when I discovered what a huge game this was.”
Hailing from the small city of Fair Lawn, N.J., Sanders came to Abilene Christian College to pursue a degree in sports medicine and physical therapy. He was drawn to the school after reading a story about ACU quarterback Jim Lindsey in Sports Illustrated. Although the only things he knew about Texas came from what he read and saw on the television, Sanders was intrigued by the West Texas university with a worldrenowned athletic program.
“I thought of the possibility of riding a horse to class and watch tumbleweeds blow across the campus,” Sanders said, admitting his misconceptions of Texas.
He later changed his major to mass communication and worked as the photographer for the student yearbook. But his immersion in ACC’s student life and intramural football truly began after he pledged Frater Sodalis the fall of his sophomore year.
Although he was playing essentially the same game with Frats as he played as a freshman, he said there was a visible difference.
“It was everything I experienced at the dormitory level and added an aspect of pride we just couldn’t experience outside of club,” Satch said. “It really added a lot of value to winning.”
He began as a defensive end, moved to receiver and cornerback and has played a myriad of positions during his more than three-decade career. The format has changed – from flag football to two-hand touch, from 8-man football to 7-man football and now to 6-man football – but regardless of the changes to the rules, Sanders remains devoted to the game. So devoted that he has played every season in spite of various injuries.
Satch stayed in Abilene after graduation in the spring of 1976. He became a Frats’ sponsor in 1979 while pursuing a graduate degree in mass communication and working at Keaton Kolor, a local photography store, all the while playing intramural football.
“One of the privileges of being a sponsor is an open door to continue your engagement in intramurals,” Sanders said.
Moving from team to team, and always playing with Frats, Satch has played with generations of intramural athletes. He suited up for the “Frats Team 1,” a team that plays in the more competitive league of the Intramural Department, until 1984.
While age and injury slowed him down – three
knee surgeries, cartilage damage, two shoulder surgeries and a handful of broken fingers to name a few – Sanders has remained
a regular on the Frater Sodalis’ roster.
When he is not playing football, Sanders is the marketing director for Exceptional Brands, LLC, where he coordinates advertising for franchise restaurants in the West Texas area. Sanders is also the CEO of Missile Base Enterprises, which is focused on the historic preservation of the Cold War era Lawn Atlas Missile Base in Lawn.
In the off-season, Satch stays in shape by playing racquetball, and he said he always is ready for a pickup football game. Although he has endured several injuries, his doctor encourages Satch to stay active. In fact, because he is an insulin dependent diabetic since the seventh grade, he must stay active, and intramural football is exactly what the doctor prescribes, Satch said.
Often the most vocal player on the field, Satch screams “Ball!” when a quarterback releases the ball into the air, “Hey, Hey, Hey!” when someone he is defending attempts a catch and uses his wisdom to draw up plays in the huddle.
“Satch is just like everybody else on the field,” said Jeff Duncan, ACU alumnus and quarterback for the Frat alumni team. “We treat him like everyone else; he’s part of the team.”
It does not happen often, so Satch cherishes every catch and every touchdown that comes his way.
“Every one of those catches are just emblazoned,” Satch said.
But it’s the generational relationships, not the occasional catch, that keep Satch in the game. Football is his gateway to building a relationship with the men who pledge Frater Sodalis. While other sponsors invite members over for dinner or get to know them at club meetings, Satch plays football.
“There is just no way an adviser can establish relationships like I establish by
sharing competition, by being on the practice field, by spending that time playing football,” Satch said.
His teammates were and are fathers and sons, uncles and nephews, cousins and brothers – all are Frats and all call Satch a teammate.
Don Hilton played with Satch in the ’70s when he was in his “prime.” His son Brady plays with Satch today, and although several gray hairs separate the seasons when each man played with Satch, both say he is a true teammate and friend.
“Satch is a sponsor to some, a friend to a lot of people and an intramural football player,” Brady Hilton said. “I believe the guy has a true passion to play flag football. I’ve seen people my age play with less passion than he does.”
Brady said his father Don never spoke much about his intramural football days. Satch offered insight into that portion of his father’s life after discussing it with Brady. That generational tie is what Sanders says keeps him going after all these years.
“I think it’s great; I would do it too if my knees would let me,” Don Hilton said.
The men of Frater Sodalis recognized Satch’s devotion to Frater Sodalis when they decided to name the intramural field the university shares with Taylor Elementary, something Satch said he knew nothing about. A campaign began in 2003 to raise $75,000 to install lights and build an entrance to the field. Donations poured in from Satch’s past teammates, and more than $80,000 was raised for the field.
Satch may be one of the few people who are able to enjoy a facility named after them, but he is not unrealistic about the continuation of his career. While his body continues to age, he hopes for three more seasons so he can play competitively with his son, Keith Sanders, a freshman at ACU.
If Keith, marketing major from Abilene, decides to pledge Frats as a sophomore and plays on the same team as his father, Sanders said he might consider hanging up his knee braces.
Keith, who was named after a former teammate and mentor of Satch, understands his father’s dream of sharing the intramural field with his son. He feels a bit pressured and humbled, but said one of the reasons he chose to come to ACU was because of the camaraderie he witnessed watching his father play football.
“I grew up on the field as much as anything else,” Keith said. “I think it keeps him sane; he loves it, and there is no doubt about that.”
Satch does not know if he has three more years left in him but uses the chance to play with his son as fuel for his aching body.
“That is the one thing I’m dreaming of. That would be the ultimate conclusion, the ultimate scenario to end my Frat career – to be a part of Frat football with my son,” he said.
If he does retire after playing with his son, he will have played 40 years of intramural football. But he admits the game may lure him back.
“I may pull a Brett Favre, you never know,” Satch said.