Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a member and past president of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year 10 times and has been inducted to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
Like It Is:
Sanders, Judkins set for another epic battle to prove SEC's best back
Arkansas running back Raheim Sanders (5) celebrates a touchdown during a game against Ole Miss on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Fayetteville.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It was a great competition mostly overshadowed last season by Georgia’s great play, the surprise turnaround at LSU, a slippage at Alabama and Texas A&M losing to Appalachian State.
Arkansas’ Raheim Sanders and Ole Miss’ Quinshon Judkins race to be the season’s leading rusher in the SEC was mightily contested and could have gone either way.
After they faced off on Nov. 19 in Fayetteville, Sanders — who had 232 yards in Arkansas’ 42-27 win — led Judkins by 3 yards. Sanders had 1,389 to 1,386 for the Rebels freshman running back.
The next week against Missouri, though, Sanders had only 10 carries — seven in the first quarter, indicating he got dinged up — for 47 yards, and he had even less against Kansas in the Liberty Bowl with three carries and 17 yards before being helped off the field.
Judkins finished with a pair of 91-yard efforts and won the rushing title 1,567 to 1,443.
Now both are back for another run and they were both, naturally, first- team preseason All-SEC.
In some ways, their stories are similar.
Sanders, a 4-star recruit, grew up in Rockledge, Fla., 163 miles from the University of Florida campus, and while he was offered a scholarship by all the other major programs in his state, the Gators overlooked him.
Judkins grew up in Pike Road, Ala., 150 miles from Tuscaloosa and even though he had dozens of offers including ones from Notre Dame, Arkansas and a handful of other SEC schools, the 5-11, 200-pound battering ram was ignored by Alabama.
The Tide did sign two running backs that year, including one from the transfer portal.
No one knows what either running back’s Name Image and Likeness worth is, although there has been legislation proposed to not only reveal the amount each athlete makes, but to have it controlled.
At SEC media days, Judkins told ESPN’s Chris Lowe he had bought a car — not just any car, a new Mercedes Benz and not from just any dealership, but one where Alabama Coach Nick Saban is a partner.
Judkins said he did not initially know Saban was a partner, but it didn’t matter, he didn’t have any hard feelings about Alabama not recruiting him.
On his second visit to the dealership, he did meet Nicolas Saban, the assistant general manager and the Tide coach’s son.
“I’m right where I want to be at Ole Miss and got the car I wanted,” Judkins said.
He re-signed his NIL deal with The Grove Collective last December but said he bought the car before signing that deal. Judkins said he had inquiries from other schools about transferring after his freshman season but added, “I never thought about leaving my school.”
Judkins’ rushing total were second-most in SEC history behind only Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker’s 1,616 yards in 1980.
The 1,567 yards is an Ole Miss record that was previously held by Kay Dottley, who rushed for 1,312 yards in 1949.
Dottley was born in Birmingham, Ala., but spent most of his life before college in Southeast Arkansas and graduated from high school in McGehee. He also spent three years in the NFL and is a member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
Don’t see a route for Judkins to be inducted into the ASHOF, but he appears to be on the bullet train for the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.
No doubt Sanders will some day be nominated for the ASHOF.
Today, though, both are eager for an encore season and another shot at the rushing title. Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman declared at media days that Sanders has gained 10 pounds and is as fast as ever. His nickname, of course, is “Rocket.”
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