Entering NFL draft 'the best opportunity' for West Virginia's Sands


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Robert Sands is adamant that a first birthday party for his daughter, Taraya, is his biggest focus this week.

His nerves beg to differ.

Sands is expecting a phone call by week's end that could change his life. The former West Virginia defensive standout is hoping to be selected in the NFL draft, and most projections have him as a fourth-round pick.

He is one of almost a dozen former West Virginia players who participated in pro day. But Sands is the lone Mountaineers underclassman to enter the draft this season.

His decision, he said, was not motivated by the coaching transition currently under way in Morgantown, W.Va.

"I made this decision because I felt like it was the best opportunity to better myself as well as my family," Sands said. "I felt like it was the right time, the right opportunity, so I took it."

Just one Mountaineer, offensive tackle Selvish Capers, was picked in the draft last year. A seventh-round selection by the Washington Redskins, Capers was on the Redskins practice squad.

As many as six former West Virginia players, including Sands, former star running back Noel Devine and defensive back Brandon Hogan, stand a good chance of being drafted this week.

Hogan might be the top prospect, as some scouting services project him as a late third-round pick. But off-field issues -- including a recent arrest for driving with a suspended license -- could jeopardize his draft stock.

Sands was a three-year starter for the Mountaineers and developed a reputation as a hard-hitting safety.

"He's obviously a physically gifted guy," said West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. "He's a big kid [6 feet 4 inches, 217 pounds] that runs really well. ... He's got good range as a deep defender. He's going to make somebody really a good safety, and a guy I think that maybe can be a third-down guy."

Casteel said Sands would have played an important role on West Virginia's defense next fall -- especially as a mentor to younger players. But he did not fault Sands for entering the draft.

"I think he made the right choice, if he had an opportunity to go out and be drafted, we wish him the best," Casteel said. "But we'd love to have him back, there's no question."

Sands has spent the past few months in Miami, near his hometown, Carol City, preparing for the draft. He went to the NFL Scouting Combine in March and participated in West Virginia's pro day that same month.

The entire process has given Sands a lot to ponder -- he worries about who will pick him and when, and he is nervous that everything is out of his control.

"It's not like college, where you can pick where you go," he said. "You have to go wherever they want you to go."

But he can control what he thinks about, which is why he wants to know as little as possible to keep his mind from wandering.

"I don't want to know anything," Sands said. "I don't want to know good news. I don't want to know bad news. If you constantly worry about what people are saying about you or what people are saying about this stuff, it will make you more nervous and worry about more things."


Michael Sanserino: msanserino@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1722.


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