ELBURN – The son of a football coach is finding his niche in a different fall sport.
Kaneland’s Jakob Sanders played football his freshman year at DeKalb, then switched to golf as a sophomore before transferring to Kaneland last year. He’s a senior now, but from a golf experience standpoint, that’s misleading.
Sanders golfed minimally growing up, playing the occasional round with his dad, Marty, former DeKalb head football coach and a volunteer football assistant coach at Kaneland last year.
Now that he’s dedicated himself to the sport, Sanders’ year-to-year improvement is drastic.
“Whenever I tell people I’ve only been golfing for like two years, they always say, ‘Well that means you have a lot of room for improvement – you can still change your swing,’ ” Sanders said. “It’s easier to learn. A lot of these guys are trying to just shave off one or two strokes and I’m trying to shave off 10.”
Kaneland coach Mark Meyer identified Sanders as one of the team’s most-improved golfers this fall. That progress will be needed for a Knights team that lost stalwarts Matt Yonkovich and Brody Kuhar to graduation.
The 5-foot-10-inch, 130-pound Sanders doesn’t have a prototypical football build, and he said he didn’t have the speed to compensate.
“Golf, you don’t have to be a certain body type to be good,” Sanders said. “Football, you have to fit into a certain body type to be good at that.”
In his debut season with the Knights, Sanders made the varsity but rarely contributed to the team’s score as his rounds often hovered in the mid-to-high 90s.
He said he played about four rounds a week during the summer – often at Hughes Creek in Elburn – and supplemented those with trips to the driving range. His typical scores have dipped into the 80s, and Sanders said shooting below 85 has become realistic most times out.
“Last year it’d probably be three-quarters of the time I’d hit it good, and the other quarter I wouldn’t be so good,” Sanders said. “Now there’s probably one or two times in the whole round where it’s not very good, striking-wise with my approach or my chipping or whatever.”
The Knights are counting on Sanders to be a key part of the mix with a less established hierarchy at the top of this year’s lineup.
“I think it’s fairly open-ended,” Meyer said. “Jesse Denton has improved quite a bit. I wouldn’t be surprised if he and Jake Hed kind of ended up as our top two, but definitely not as certain as it was last year where we knew [Yonkovich and Kuhar] were going to be our two guys we could count on every single time to count their scores and lead the way.”
Denton, a senior, also made substantial summer progress. He said he holed out a pair of chips from about 100 yards out during rounds at Sycamore Golf Club, requiring lucky rolls, perhaps, but also indicative of a targeted area of improvement.
“I struggled with [chipping] last season but I’ve been practicing it quite a bit so now it’s one of my strongsuits,” said Denton, who is turning his attention to driving accuracy as the next phase of his game in need of troubleshooting.
Sanders, meanwhile, still gets his football fix vicariously through his brother, sophomore Reid Sanders, who plays wide receiver and cornerback.
Regarding football, Sanders said “I miss it a little bit but I know for sure golf is what I love to do.”
“I liked football but it’s not something I loved doing,” Sanders said. “As soon as I started golfing, that really turned into something I really loved doing.”