To say that Flint, Michigan has withstood hard times is an understatement. For decades, Flint has been riddled with crime, police brutality, systematic racism and poverty. More recently, the people in the city have been facing an ongoing water crisis that has seen little to no improvement over six years. On top of that, jobs are as few and far between as the economy continues to be affected by the global pandemic. While all of those things are pertinent, sports can be one outlet that brings people some peace and optimism.
Despite the feel of ominous clouds hovering over the once-thriving city, Earnest Sanders is one glimmer of sunlight for Flint Town. Sanders was a prep star at Flint Beecher High School, where he was an All-State performer in both football and basketball. Sanders being a fan favorite was an understatement. His propensity to soar above the rim on the hardwood and over defensive backs on the football field became a nightly spectacle for spectators, opponents, and teammates.
As he prepares to play at the next level at the University of Kentucky, Sanders aspires to give hope to those in his hometown while he's nearly 400 miles away in Lexington.
Sanders, who leaves on June 20, is eager but nervous about his new beginning. But one thing he knows is certain: he is ready to work.
"You must work hard, really hard, for whatever you want. Nothing will be given or handed out," Sanders told TSFJ.
The highly-touted recruit is no stranger to hard work. Sanders splashed on the recruiting scene after a breakout junior season as he tallied 42 receptions for 1,047 yards and 24 total touchdowns. From there, the rest was history. There were scholarship offers from notable universities such as Penn State, Purdue, Washington State, Michigan State, West Virginia, and many more Power 5 schools. After being courted by the schools, Sanders knew that Kentucky was the best fit for him.
To some, the Wildcats may be an unpopular choice for someone from his area, but Sanders saw a perfect fit in Lexington.
"Coach (Mark) Stoops is my guy," replied Sanders. "Also, Coach Clink (area recruiter Steven Clinkscale) has been coming into Michigan to get some of the best talents here. For example, five-star recruit Justin Rogers who had offers from Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, and others came here. That was big for the University and it instantly changed the culture. With us coming there, along with the guys that are already there from Michigan, I'm sure it will start a pipeline for guys to come."
Sanders' dad, who's also named Earnest, played at the University of Michigan from 1993-1996. He knows a thing a or two about the recruiting process, but he allowed his son to make the final call on where he wanted to go.
"My Mom and Dad raised me my whole life so they had some say in my decision, but at the end of the day, I had to make the right decision for me. I know that I made the right one in choosing Big Blue Nation."
Sanders, who plans to study communications, has a goal to get his degree and he wants to play in the NFL. With hard work, he is certain it can happen.
"Where I'm from, we don't back down from any challenge," Sanders proclaimed. "I know that as long as I grind the rest will take care of itself," he said. "Guys like Brandon Carr, Mark Ingram, my high school head coach, Coach (Courtney) Hawkins and a lot of other guys laid the foundation before me. I hope to keep it going."
In the words of the urban philosopher Young Jeezy, Sanders wants to be a vessel of hope for his hometown, but more importantly, he wants to put on for his city.
"What I'm doing is bigger than me. Every young person in my city can look in the mirror and say that if I can do it, they can do it as well, with hard work of course."