From Hastings to Huskers: Sanford finding success in final season

Local4 News at 10
Published: Sep. 22, 2023 at 10:49 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KSNB) - Phalen Sanford is a football guy.

“Pursuing football has been my dream my whole life,” he said. “Kindergarten, first grade, on career day I dressed up as a football player.”

A product of Benkelman, Nebraska, and eight-man high school football at Dundy County Stratton, Sanford’s college career starts back in 2018 at Hastings College.

“Originally, I thought I wanted to go somewhere just because I loved football, so I wanted to get on the field that first year and play four or five years rather than wait my turn,” Sanford said.

Sanford never played in a football game for the Broncos — medically redshirting his freshman year after shoulder surgery.

“Those injuries hurt at the time, they were setbacks, but I think they really helped me out in the long run,” he said.

But he did get healthy in time for track season in Hastings.

“We knew Phalen was a really good overall athlete,” Hastings College track & field coach Ryan Mahoney said. “We really though Phalen could be a really, really good multi-eventer.”

“It was definitely just a ton of fun to be able to compete at Hastings and do track,” Sanford added.

After his freshman year, Sanford left Hastings and walked on at the University of Nebraska.

“Being at Hastings and then still having the opportunity to come here was something that couldn’t happen for a lot of people,” he said.

He’s blossomed through six years of college football in Lincoln.

“Phalen Sanford can start at all three positions,” Nebraska football coach Matt Rhule said in August. “Phalen has made the jump, I think, from being a really good special teams player and someone who can help on defense, to someone who can start. He’s one of the fastest guys on the team, but he’s now really consistent in all of those areas.”

Sanford carved his Husker role early, winning the program’s Special Teams Player of the Year in 2021 as a sophomore.

“If you want to get on the field you’ve got to get on special teams,” Sanford said. “Every play on special teams you’re pretty much just showing what you can do.”

“Really dependable, physical,” Rhule added. “I think an excellent special teams player as well.”

It’s resulted in Rhule placing sanford on scholarship this fall.

“He gets it off of merit,” he said. “The role he’s playing in the rotation at safety and then all special teams.”

“He was always a hard worker, so it doesn’t surprise me at all that he would go on and be that walk-on kid that earns a scholarship,” Mahoney added.

“Coach Rhule put his arm around me and he was like, ‘Hey, I want to let you know we’re going to put you on scholarship this fall,’” Sanford said. “It means a ton to me because I’ve always battled being able to pay for college.”

From Benkelman, to Hastings and the Huskers, the Nebraska native is simply grateful

“It just made me realize not to take anything for granted,” Sanford said.