UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Since his freshman season in 2013, TJ Sanders has become a constant and dominating force at attack for the No. 12 Penn State men's lacrosse team (3-0). While Sanders knows how to put points on the board, he also has the ability to connect with teammates and make his worth far more than the numbers show.
"TJ certainly started his career as a finisher, he was extremely productive and extremely successful but I think he's had to adapt a little bit," said head coach Jeff Tambroni. "He's adapted more as a ball carrier, and has developed a game as a connector as well, getting the ball to other guys who can finish as well."
As a freshman, Sanders earned CAA Rookie of the Year, All-CAA Second Team and All-CAA Rookie Team honors. He ended his first season with the Nittany Lions with 44 goals and five-assists.
As a sophomore, Sanders scored a point in all but one game during the 2014 campaign, and recorded seven multi-point games on his way to being named a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar and Academic All-Big Ten.
Last season, the Ontario, Canada, native was named a USILA All-America honorable mention and All-Big Ten honorable mention after scoring 29 goals and notching 13 assists in just 14 games.
Now as a senior, the attackman has already scored nine goals in the first three games. Sanders has certainly made an impact on Penn State Lacrosse during the last three years, and doesn't look to let up his momentum any time soon, noting every game is an opportunity to improve from his last performance.
Tambroni noted that Sanders' instinctual abilities to read players, move the ball within the offensive zone, and his ability to adapt on a moments notice has become an essential part of the Nittany Lions' on-field success.
"I think IQ is underrated as an attack man because you're just involved with so many plays, not just in the offensive end but also the transition to offense, understanding the pace of play, and game management," said Tambroni.
During his career, the numbers Sanders has put on the score sheet tell the story of a determined young man who knows how to play the game of lacrosse at a challenging level. However, what the numbers don't show is how Sanders has progressed as both a leader and contributor to the team when not putting up points.
"TJ, to his credit, this year more so than any other years for obvious reasons as a senior has just done a wonderful job of not just being a productive player, but has become a much better game manager, a much better leader, and a wonderful role model," said Tambroni.
Off the field, Sanders may not be as outgoing as some of his teammates, but rather focuses on building relationships with his fellow Nittany Lions that contribute to their team's on-field successes. Sanders noted that they best way he can get other teammates to perform their best, is for him to set that example and to do the best he can, whether at practice or during a game.
"I think of myself as a pretty quiet guy so I may not be the kind of ray-rah leader that a lot of people are," said Sanders. "I like to connect with my teammates on a personal level, kind of talk to them more than yell at them, that kind of style. There's other guys in the room that will get everyone energized and excited so we have a pretty good mix in the locker room."
Sanders explained that although his authority style may deviate from the normal, he has been able to set an example for his fellow teammates just as effectively as the most vocal guys on the team. He explained that sometimes the most important part of being an exemplary leader is just being a good teammate.
"It's really the intangible things," said Sanders. "Being able to work well with your teammates, that makes the biggest difference."
Penn State hosts Villanova on Saturday at 1 p.m.