A little more than six weeks from now, Baylor School offensive lineman Brycen Sanders will begin preseason practices for the final time as a prep football player.
For the past few months, the prized college prospect been busy working to make a decision about where his talent will take him after his senior year with the Red Raiders is over.
In recent weeks, the 6-foot-6, 280-pound Sanders made official recruiting visits to Oklahoma and Tennessee as he prepares to announce his commitment. In April he took an official visit to Ole Miss, and those three schools plus LSU make up the final four on his list of possible programs.
While LSU, Ole Miss and Tennessee are longtime members of the Southeastern Conference, Oklahoma is on its way to the powerful league, with the Sooners set to exit the Big 12 for the SEC by July 2025.
"My dream has always been to play college football," Sanders said. "My grandfather and dad both played in college and were both centers. I have always been bigger than everyone else, so pushing people around on the line was a natural fit. To be able to have the chance to play at such a high level in college, to me, is an honor.
"It's been special meeting some of the best coaches in college football."
Sanders has the strength to dominate oncoming pass rushers, along with technical skills and quickness to handle any assignment. With an average of five pancake blocks per game in 2021, he helped pave the way for a well-balanced Red Raiders offense that averaged 32 points per game while competing in TSSAA Division II-AAA.
He is listed as a four-star prospect by 247sports.com and the No. 5 prospect in Tennessee for the class of 2023. Sanders is the highest-rated offensive line recruit from the Chattanooga area since former Baylor standout Jacques McClendon was ranked No. 2 in the state as a member of the class of 2006.
"You can just take one look at Brycen and tell he has an unbelievable amount of God-given ability," said Baylor head coach Erik Kimrey, a University of South Carolina assistant last season. "On top of that, he has the work ethic, athletic ability and mindset to play that position at a very high level.
"The SEC has the best defensive linemen in the cosmos other than the NFL. To be able to play O-line in that league takes a special human that's up for an immense challenge. Brycen is one of those, and he has all the intangible qualities that match his God-given ability."
Sanders said he's "super close" on his final decision.
Will he join the list of top-rated offensive line prospects from the area who have chosen Tennessee — a group that includes Bradley Central's Austin Sanders (class of 2013), Rhea County's Kevin Revis (class of 2009) and McClendon — and commit to the Volunteers?
Last season, their first under coach Josh Heupel, the Vols were prolific on offense and showed notable progress while going 7-6 despite major roster turnover from the year before.
LSU and Oklahoma are both entering their first seasons under new leadership, with former Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly taking over the Tigers — the 2019 season's national champions — and former Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables now in charge of the Sooners, who are four-time qualifiers for the College Football Playoff.
Ole Miss is heading into year three of the Lane Kiffin era, and the Rebels jumped from 5-5 in 2020 to 10-3 last season.
Kimrey believes Sanders has the build and drive to make an impact wherever he ends up.
"I don't really think you can quantify his net value to our team and program," Kimrey said. "It starts first with his character. He is a very driven young man with lofty goals for himself and makes everybody around him better. His ability commands respect, and he takes the time to lead and hold his teammates accountable in a respectful way. You can't ever take leaders like him for granted."
With a longtime goal soon to be reached with his college commitment, Sanders is also excited for a final run with the Red Raiders.
"I am really excited to start a new era with Baylor football," he said. "We have a really, really good coaching staff and have a lot of talent all over. I can't wait for us to put it all on the field."
STEPPING TOWARD THE NEXT LEVEL
Here’s a list of the Chattanooga area’s top college football prospects in Tennessee, with height and weight in parentheses, position and high school.
Class of 2023
› DJ Adams (6-2, 165), WR, Cleveland
› Anthony Boggs (6-4, 270), DL, Baylor
› Juan Bullard (6-1, 200), RB, East Hamilton
› Marceo Collins Jr. (6-2, 250), Baylor
› AD Crutcher (5-10, 170), RB, Red Bank
› Andre Delinois (6-2, 210), WR, McCallie
› Eli Denton (6-0, 195), LB, Walker Valley
› Brohns Donaldson (5-11, 185), ATH, Boyd Buchanan
› Noah Gravel (6-0, 215), QB, Baylor
› Caleb Hampton (5-10, 195), RB, Baylor
› Javoris Havis (6-2, 215), RB, Chattanooga Christian
› Evan Haynie (6-0, 175), DB, Baylor
› Larry Henderson (6-1, 175), ATH, Central
› Josh Jackson (6-4, 212), QB, Tyner
› Caden Johnson (5-11, 175), WR, Boyd Buchanan
› Zachariah LaBoo (6-7, 230), TE, East Hamilton
› Chris Nichols (6-2, 240), DL, Central
› Journe Norwood (6-3, 270), OL, Tyner
› Hugues Picard (5-11, 190), QB, Baylor
› Ontario Price Jr. (5-11, 205), RB, McCallie
› Brett Rogers (6-1, 170), QB, Silverdale Baptist
› Brycen Sanders (6-6, 280), OL, Baylor
› Donovan Smith (6-2, 195), WR, Central
› EJ Smith (6-2, 350), OL, McCallie
› Donivon Thomas (6-5, 210), TE, Brainerd
Class of 2024
› Marcellus Barnes Jr. (6-1, 163), DB, McCallie
› Olivier Camerlain (6-5, 225), LB, McCallie
› Boo Carter (5-11, 180), RB, Chattanooga Christian
› Ethan Davis (5-9, 170), RB, Rhea County
› Carson Gentle (6-2, 215), DL, McCallie
› Marcus Goree Jr. (6-1, 170), DB, Bradley Central
› Elliot Guay (6-5, 265), OL, McCallie
› Joshua Hampton (6-2, 170), WR/DB, Baylor
› Amari Jefferson (6-1, 190), WR, Baylor
› Kaleb Martin (6-2, 170), ATH, Rhea County
› Jaylon Sanderfer (6-1, 205), RB, Boyd Buchanan
› Kobe Smith (6-3, 185), DL, Red Bank
› Jeremy St-Hilaire (6-3, 200), QB, McCallie
› AJ Wallace (6-2, 180), WR/DB, Chattanooga Christian
› Tito Williams (6-2, 180), DB, Bradley Central
Class of 2025
› Martels Carter Jr. (6-0, 180), QB, Brainerd
› Daune Morris (5-10, 180), RB, Red Bank
› Cameron Sparks (6-3, 205), WR, Baylor
› J’Alan Terry (5-11, 190), DB, Bradley Central