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Healthy Sanders First Step in Revamping TC D

Titans starting to get injured players back, beat Mount Vernon.

Deontre Sanders is a 5-foot-10, 240-pound wrecking ball. Big and strong enough to play defensive tackle as a junior; fast and athletic enough to move to linebacker as a senior. T.C. Williams coaches envisioned Sanders as a key element in one of the best linebacking trios in the Northern Region — if not the state. But his much-anticipated 2010 defensive switch was put on hold when, during a summer two-a-day practice, Sanders fell victim to something no amount of speed or strength could help him overcome: helmet-to-helmet contact.

"I blacked out for a little bit," Sanders said.

Sanders suffered a concussion, sidelining him for weeks. He missed the Titans’ Aug. 26 scrimmage against Centreville and the regular season opener against Robinson on Sept. 2 — both lopsided losses for TC. After experiencing the helplessness of not being able to help his teammates, Sanders returned to practice on Sept. 6 in preparation for Mount Vernon. Five days later, No. 54 made his debut against the Majors and didn’t disappoint. This time, it was Sanders who was dishing out physical punishment.

The senior totaled 16 tackles and one sack as the Titans cruised to a 45-14 victory on Sept. 11 at Parker-Gray Stadium. Mount Vernon (0-2) has lost 13 consecutive games dating back to the 2008 season and has been outscored 100-34 in two games this year.

"It felt real good" to be on the field, Sanders said. "I couldn’t wait to get out there. I just felt right."

Sanders was one of four key defensive players out for TC (1-1) during the Robinson game. Linebacker Damien Benton, defensive end Jay Whitmire and safety Israel Richardson were also not in uniform when the Titans lost to Robinson, 35-2. Sanders was the first to return, landing several bone-jarring hits against the Majors.

"Deontre, he’s a heckuva player," TC head coach Dennis Randolph said. "He’s enthusiastic, he’s strong, he’s fast. When he hits you, it’s like hitting a brick wall. I really felt like [Mount Vernon running backs Sadiq Oyedele] and [Jordan Tasby] really slowed down a bit once he put a couple hits on them. They’re good backs, but you can’t get hit like that consistently and have it not affect you.

"… Subconsciously, last week, we didn’t have Damien, we didn’t have Deontre, we didn’t have Jay and that played on us," Randolph said. "I’m not taking anything away from Robinson because they beat the snot out of us, but we would like to play them again in 10 weeks if it comes to that."

Benton, who missed the Robinson game due to personal reasons, recently returned to the team and saw action in the fourth quarter against Mount Vernon. He promptly recorded four tackles and returned a fumble 10 yards for a touchdown. Benton’s pleasure over being back on the field came pouring out after the score, when he screamed, flexed and playfully jumped into the arms of the injured Whitmire on the sideline.

Benton is still working his way into football shape, but as time goes by he figures to make more of an impact.

"Everything felt real good to me," Benton said of his return to the field. "I haven’t been out there practicing for" awhile.

Sanders, Benton and Tevin Isley, who finished with nine tackles against Mount Vernon, comprise the Titans’ linebacking trio.

The Titans hope to have Whitmire (ankle) and Richardson (knee) back no later than their Patriot District opener on Sept. 24 against 2009 state runner-up Lake Braddock.

"The big thing is," TC defensive coordinator Mike Gamble said, "we’re getting healthy."

AGAINST MOUNT VERNON, TC’s Deomonte Rice returned an interception 10 yards for a touchdown. Ed Massaquoi recorded nine tackles and Lorenzo Myers finished with eight. Isley, Ed Massaquoi, Joe Massaquoi, Eric Berger and Hisham Taylor each had one sack. The TC defense held Mount Vernon to nine first downs and one offensive touchdown.

While the defense is shaping up, the TC offense finally put some points on the board. One week after being held out of the end zone by Robinson, TC scored a touchdown on its first play from scrimmage — an 86-yard pass from Doug Murphy to Will Rossi.

"Last week, [the Majors] had been dropping all their safeties and corners back, so we were looking to throw an underneath route on that play," Murphy said. "They put their linebacker up and their safety walked up and I knew Will had the speed to run right by him. I just had to lay it up there for him."

Murphy was on the money with the deep throw, his first of three touchdown passes on the day. The senior completed 9 of 16 attempts for 238 yards and was intercepted once.

"You get that monkey off your back," Randolph said of reaching the end zone for the first time in 2010. "Just like everything else, when you don’t have success you doubt what you’re doing. You think, ‘Maybe we should do this differently.’ You’ve got to stick with what you believe in and stick with what you practice and everything’s going to work out."

Raquan Brunson caught three passes for 91 yards and two touchdowns. Tyrell Sitton caught three passes for 38 yards.

The Titans struggled on the ground, gaining just 30 yards in 24 attempts.

T.C. Williams is back in action at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 16 at Oakton. The Titans are hoping to start firing on all cylinders soon: a goal that requires getting key players back from injury.

Said Sanders: "We’re going to be unstoppable."