Journey leads to Evangel, again, for football legend Sands
September 20, 2013 | Bryce Wilks
Many students agonize for weeks or even months about what items to bring to college. Edward Sands headed for Evangel the first time in 2006 with three: a plane ticket and two suitcases.
Sands had never seen campus when he was added to Evangel’s 2006 football recruiting class. He became a late signee after an assistant coach who was tracking the Apopka, Florida product heard other scholarship offers had fallen through.
“I was planning to just learn a trade and not even play college football,” Sands says. “But [then Evangel assistant] Coach Hartley called me up and said ‘we still want you.’”
Sands arrived in Springfield two days prior to the end of summer training camp. By the time he graduated in 2010, he was regarded as one of the best players in EU history.
Now back on campus as the team’s defensive secondary coach, Sands’ full-circle story hasn’t come without obstacles.
“It really was a culture shock…”
Raised by his aunt and uncle, Sands says he had almost no exposure to diverse groups of people and cultures when he arrived as a freshman student.
“The first thing I had to learn was how to communicate with people from all over the world,” Sands says. “Where I came from, everyone had the same lingo and attitude, so coming to Evangel forced me to meet and interact with people I never would have.”
Success on the football field came naturally for Sands, who achieved all-conference recognition during his freshman season. In the classroom, however, Sands struggled to adapt to taking tests and communicating with professors.
He became academically ineligible prior to the 2007 season and was forced to sit out the year and work on school.
“That was a tough, tough time for me,” Sands says. “I saw the impact I had on the team as a freshman, so not being out there was a killer.”
With help from former Evangel softball player Ashley Bryant (now spouse Ashley Sands), Edward rehabilitated his GPA.
“She’s a determined person who will accomplish anything she puts her mind to,” Sands says. “That rubbed off on me and helped me improve.”
Sands bounced back and completed his football eligibility from 2008-10, earning all-conference selections twice as a wide receiver, and once as a defensive back. His final year was under head coach Brenton Illum, laying the groundwork for Sands return to Evangel in 2013.
He also graduated with a degree in Recreation and was a coach and special education teacher at Branson High School from 2010-12.
“Special people succeed at Evangel…”
Sands knows from experience that not every athlete comes to Evangel on purpose. Some feel slighted that an injury or academic issue sabotaged offers from larger schools. But he wants his players to know there is a purpose for them once they get here.
“The football culture here is different,” Sands says. “Good…but different.”
“Some of the guys I played with didn’t respond well to the rules, chapel requirements and standard of putting God first in every area of life,” Sands says. “They didn’t understand what this place could do for them — make them improve as a person and player, and connect them with people who will help for life.”
Sands saw a few teammates leave the program, only to regret it.
“When guys would tell me they were leaving, I’d just say ‘see you next semester’ because I knew they would be back. Several of them did come back after they realized how special Evangel really was.”
Now coaching college athletes for the first time, Sands appreciates the ability to focus on football throughout the week and coach players who have been selected by Evangel.
“Coming here the first time taught me that there was so much more out there then what I had learned back home,” Sands says. “Now I’m seeing that players can go to another level, and that’s making me want to be the best position coach I can.”
The suitcases and plane ticket were dead giveaways for a tourist, but Edward Sands has found a new home at Evangel.
Photos by William and Terry Griffin