One of the good things about being 6-foot-7 and 340 pounds is that you don't have to tiptoe around questions. So when former Howard star and current Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Terdell Sands is asked to speak his mind on any subject, he doesn't worry about being politically correct or whose feelings he's going to hurt.
In fact, only one thing scares Sands.
"The Black Hole," Sands joked, referring to the infamous section of rowdy fans at Oakland. "Those people are no joke. They're true Raiders fans. I've seen some of the worst fights ever up there just because somebody showed up in another team's colors. They stick together and they'll whip anybody's butt."
Sands has been in Chattanooga this week to spend time with his 13-year-old son Cordell and friends before flying back to Oakland on Monday to prepare for preseason workouts. He will return for his third annual youth football camp, which will be held at McCallie on June 13.
The hardships Sands has overcome to reach the NFL prompt him to help the city's youth, and they add to his confidence in speaking his mind.
After an all-state senior season at Howard, he signed with the University of Tennessee but failed to qualify academically. He spent the next two years taking classes at Chattanooga State and UT-Chattanooga before being allowed to join the Mocs on the field. After a solid freshman season he was ruled academically ineligible, dropped out and spent another year away from the game.
But after a tryout at an NFL pro day at UTC, Sands was taken by Kansas City in the seventh round of the 2001 draft. He spent a season with the NFL Europe's Berlin Thunder, was on Green Bay's practice roster for a season and made Oakland's roster in 2003.
Sands has a unique perspective on new Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin, who coached the Raiders in 2007 and was fired four games into the 2008 season, having compiled a 5-15 overall record.
"I think he'll do a good job at Tennessee because his personality will fit better at that level," Sands said. "You can't cuss and fuss at grown men and persuade them to do things the way you can a college kid. But he'll be a good recruiter of young players because he's a good salesman.
"I just don't think he needs to be an NFL coach. I didn't care for him too much because he came in with the attitude that he was a top dog even though he hadn't earned any stripes yet."
Sands added that he had great interest in the split between former McCallie quarterback B.J. Coleman and UT.
"I haven't reached out to B.J. yet, but when I get a chance I'll tell him to keep his head up, and if he's doing what he feels the Lord is leading him to do, everything will be OK," Sands said. "I've heard some talk about him coming back to UTC and there's nothing wrong with coming home and doing your thing. As good as he is, he can get noticed here just as easy.
"I'm not surprised Tennessee has had so many guys leave or kicked out at UT since Kiffin came in. That's just the way that man operates, and it will continue until he gets all his own players in there. And I'll say this, once he's made his mind up about something, nobody is going to change it."
Sands had an even harsher tone for James Cregg, who joined Kiffin's staff in December, leaving the Raiders midway through their season.
"That man is a clown," Sands said. "He gets no respect because he quit on us in the middle of the season. He jumped ship. Maybe some of his guys liked him when he helped with the offensive line, but I've got no use for anybody that quits like that."
Sands' nine-year NFL experience includes playing in 60 games and starting in 14. Last year he had 29 tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery. He admits, however, that he has been frustrated because the team hasn't won more than five games in any of his previous years.
He added that although a lot of people back home have made a fuss over the four-year, $17 million contract he signed before the 2007 season, he has maintained perspective by the fact that the day after that signing, his mother died after a lengthy battle with cancer.
"Every day after that I've felt blessed and thankful for the road I've taken and the people who believed in me all along," Sands said. "I can take care of my family now, but I know nothing comes easy. I appreciate it more, but there's still work to do because I want to be a better player than I've shown so far."