Before this gets any further, no, he’s not Barry Sanders. Despite the similar build, identical number, and rhyming last names, Tim Flanders lacks Sanders’ explosiveness, breakaway speed, and lower body power. Still, that doesn’t keep the Sam Houston State fanbase and players from calling Flanders “Clark Kent,” for his mild mannered off-field demeanor, coupled with his superhuman efforts between the sidelines. Recognized by teammates as the most humble player on the squad, Flanders routinely plays the part of the superhero who needs no medal, thanks, or adulation. Without fanfare, he was the Southland Conference’s 2011 Player Of The Year, and second team All American, while setting conference single season records for rushing yards (1644), points (144), and touchdowns (24).
Faster than a speeding bullet could aptly describe Sam Houston State’s meteoric rise up the FCS ranks since Flanders’ arrival in the East Texas Piney Woods. The Bearkats, who enjoyed extremely modest success before Flanders, began the 2011 season unheralded and unranked, but finished with an undefeated regular season, as the second highest scoring team in the FCS (at over 39 points per game), and with a spot in the 2011 FCS Championship Game. The season saw them repeatedly leaping team after team in the polls with a single bound. And Flanders cranked up his effort once the playoffs began, virtually carrying his team to the title game, with Sam Houston State needing all of his 287 rushing yards, plus a late fourth and one conversion, to hold off Montana 31-28 in the National Semifinal. Flanders also accumulated 63 of those yards during the final drive that salted the game away. Speaking about Flanders’ 2011 post season performance, SHSU head coach Willie Fritz couldn’t praise him enough, stating “Tim is the best running back in the FCS. In the playoffs, everyone got the chance to see what we’ve all known for two years. There’s not another back like him.”
At 5′ 9″ and 210 pounds, Flanders is a fireplug with a powerful lower core. But, if you ask him, he’ll say that his true power comes from his faith in God and strong commitment to family, the two things that he places above football. He ran in the 4.4s coming out of high school, as a top 50 national recruit in 2009, garnering scholarship offers from, among others, Oklahoma State, Tulsa, and Kansas State, where he eventually enrolled to play for legendary coach Bill Snyder. After redshirting his first season in Manhattan, Flanders found himself buried on a deep, talented Kansas State depth chart that featured current Miami Dolphins’ running back Daniel Thomas. Looking for more of an opportunity to make his mark, he transferred to Sam Houston State, with four years of eligibility remaining, and cracked the starting lineup in just his second career game, not looking back since. After just two seasons, Flanders already holds eighteen SHSU records.
Though not possessing elite top end speed or explosiveness, Flanders flashes good burst through the hole, and is shifty between the tackles, showcasing first rate lateral agility. He can start and stop on a dime, without losing momentum, and he goes through gears quickly. He’s patient to the hole, and knows how to let blocks develop, though, at times, he’s too patient, looking for the big play that’s not there. Flanders runs with a good forward lean, not opening his body up to contact, and is a workhorse who gets stronger as the game moves into its later stages. He sees the whole field, quickly identifying cutback lanes and demonstrating advanced skill in breaking off the initial run to attack a backside alley. Showcasing a sensational jump cut, he is a highly dynamic runner in open space, who also catches the ball well out of the backfield, actually leading Sam Houston State in receiving in 2011, with 34 receptions for 414 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Flanders’ overall play was impressive enough to place him seventh in voting for last season’s Walter Payton Award, which is presented annually to the FCS’s top player, and he sits firmly entrenched among a coterie of outstanding small school players that are considered favorites for this year’s award. He first gained national attention when a highlight clip from a run versus Stephen F. Austin University, in 2011, went viral on the web, in what came to be known as the “Flanders Flip.” Looking more like Superman than Clark Kent, Flanders somersaulted over a SFA defender into the endzone, nearly perfectly sticking the landing. But, it was Flanders’ standout performance versus FBS team New Mexico that catapulted him into the national spotlight. Flanders ripped off 194 rushing yards and scored 5 touchdowns, including the overtime game winner, in the Bearkats improbable 48-45 thriller against the Lobos, which marked only the third time in school history that SHSU knocked off an FBS (or Division 1) school. So, whether it’s changing the culture of the program, garnering national attention, securing a spot atop the polls, leading an underdog squad to a signature win over an FBS opponent, or carrying a team to the national championship game, when Sam Houston State needs a superhuman effort on the field, the Bearkats look no further than mild mannered Tim Flanders, the Southland Conference’s Clark Kent in cleats.