During his recruitment, Raheim Sanders told Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman he would play wherever he was needed. It didn’t take long for the Razorbacks to discover where that was.

Sanders, nicknamed “Rocket,” came in as a 4-star athlete this spring. He played running back, receiver and defensive end at Rockledge HS in Florida. The frosh debuted at running back during the spring game, finishing second among all rushers with 57 yards. At 6-2, 210 pounds, he runs with power and is in competition for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.

Trelon Smith — who led the team with 710 yards rushing this past season — will start the year as the lead back. However, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Sanders’ workload increase as the season plays out.

Pittman said he decided to put Sanders at running back immediately.

“He is a wonderful kid, a hard worker and … very meticulous in how he handles his business,” Pittman told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “We moved him to running back Day 1. I don’t know that was necessarily the thought when we recruited him, but we need a big back. We needed a little faster big back.”

Sanders saw equal time at receiver and running back in high school. He rushed for 317 yards and 4 touchdowns while adding 24 catches for 391 yards and 4 touchdowns as a senior. He chose Arkansas over offers from in-state programs Florida State and Miami, as well as national power Oklahoma.

He was one of two Razorback recruits, along with receiver Ketron Jackson, listed among 247Sports’ top 250 players. Although Smith is listed ahead of him on the depth chart, Sanders said he sees him more as a mentor than the competition.

“Me coming in as a receiver, I really wanted to be with him,” Sanders told ADG. “At the end of the day, our first spring scrimmage we had, the thing that turned me up was he said just treat this like high school, play how you play. Just don’t think about nothing and just go.”

Because of his experience at receiver, Sanders presents a doubly dangerous threat to defenses. That will be a big key for the Razorbacks, who are breaking in a new starting QB in KJ Jefferson. Sanders has also been working on his pass blocking, and noted he sees it as one of his strengths.

“Rocket, he’s coming along pretty smooth,” Jefferson told ADG. “He has pretty good hands catching the ball out of the backfield. Just a bigger body, more explosive also, and he can make moves in the open field. So by bringing him in, he’s just a great athlete. I mean, he can do it all. He can catch, he can run, he can block, so that’s a great asset for us bringing him in.”

Arkansas averaged just 151.3 rushing yards per game this past season, which ranked 8th in the SEC. Pittman has made it clear he wants to restore the tradition of the Hogs being regarded as one of the top rushing offenses in the country.

Nobody is expecting another Darren McFadden, but it’s clear the Razorbacks have big things planned for Sanders already.

The offensive line is another big part of Arkansas’ quest to return to smash-mouth football. Pittman spent most of his career as an o-line coach before taking over the Hogs. Many believe he will whip the group into shape after a lackluster 2020. He gets the benefit of returning all 5 starters up front.

Smith told the Fayetteville Flyer he has already seen improvement in the unit. He also praised Sanders and fellow freshman running back Javion Hunt.

“Coming in (as freshman), you could definitely have the jitters, but Javion and Rocket are doing well,” Smith said. “They are picking up things very quickly. They are learning from me. I’m back there trying to coach them up on things and catch them up as fast as possible. Those guys are ready. They are out there learning and picking up things as fast as they can.”

With as talented as Sanders is, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him make an immediate impact. He might not overtake Smith this season, but his future is bright in Fayetteville.
If the Hogs are to return to the brand of football many know them by, Sanders is the first chance for them to do so. His coaches are already seeing positive things from him in practice.
“When he turns his shoulders and goes downhill, he’s hard to bring down in a short area,” Pittman said. “He’s still learning, and I’m talking about learning the offense. You’ll see him out there at times where he’s on the wrong side or he might go the wrong way some. That’s understandable for a freshman.

“But I love everything about the kid and his work ethic, and he’s going to be a really fine player for us.”