NORMAL — Replacing the 92 receptions of graduated all-conference receiver Eyad Salem was a tall order for the Illinois State football team.
Yet the Redbirds appear to have accomplished that task by turning to a not-so-tall alternative.
Marvon Sanders, a 5-foot-9 transfer from Eastern Michigan, has made an immediate impact with 20 receptions over his first three games at ISU.
“We were hoping he would be a real jitterbug, a kind of pain in the butt to cover,” Redbird coach Brock Spack said. “He’s everything we thought he would be.”
Sanders, who caught 42 passes in two seasons at Eastern Michigan, said the adjustment to ISU “wasn’t really that bad.
“I haven’t been around for a second year (with the same coaches) in my whole career. It’s like being a freshman all over again. I fit in just fine and the players helped me along.”
Redbird receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield was a graduate assistant at Eastern Michigan in 2008, Sanders’ first year.
“You saw a lot of talent, the things he could do quickness wise,” Stubblefield said. “When we found out he was transferring, I thought he would be perfect in our program.”
Like Salem, Sanders lines up both in the slot and split wide.
“We moved Eyad around quite a bit. We do that with Marvon, too,” said Spack. “If you put him in one spot, a defense can hone in on him.”
Many of Sanders’ catches have been quick tosses near the line of scrimmage.
“I like that kind of route,” Sanders said. “It gives me space to work and maneuver.”
“We want to give him the ball fast and let him run because he’s so quick and athletic,” said Spack. “In a box, he’s going to be a handful to get on the ground.”
Sanders, who has 212 receiving yards and one touchdown, has formed an effective tandem with sophomore and top returning receiver Tyrone Walker.
“Marvon brings energy,” said Walker, who has nine catches for 99 yards. “We get the same high from the game of football. He makes people around him compete.”
Sanders has a long reception of 24 yards and averages 10.6 yards per catch. Yet the native of Ypsilanti, Mich., has the speed to run deep routes.
“It’s gonna happen,” Sanders said. “But I stick to the game plan. Whatever Coach (offensive coordinator Luke) Huard needs me to do, that’s what we do.”
At 175 pounds, Sanders has absorbed some crunching hits while fighting for yardage.
“He’s fearless. I’m really impressed by his toughness,” Spack said. “He takes a lot of shots and just bounces up and smiles. He’s got a great attitude. He brings personality to our team.”
Sanders shrugs off his ability to survive the physical demands of college football.
“I don’t mind the hits,” he said. “We’ve got pads on for a reason.”