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It is a nickname built for college sports. For the NIL era.

Raheim “Rocket” Sanders, the prized Arkansas transfer tailback who chose to finish his career at South Carolina, has garnered more excitement than any of the Gamecocks’ other 19 transfer additions.

South Carolina needed to revitalize its running backs room after finishing last in the SEC in rushing yards last year. Top tailback Mario Anderson left for Memphis. Running backs coach Montario Hardesty was fired. And Sanders is now coming into Columbia expected to be the savior of USC’s rushing attack.

The nickname just ups the excitement. The T-shirt possibilities are endless. The emojis are fun. Heck, there will surely be a few fans who joke that Williams-Brice Stadium is turning into Cape Canaveral.

The nickname is perfect — which makes it so crazy that it was lost for so long.

Sanders was just “Raheim” for the first few years of his life. Then he started playing for a Pop Warner team called the Rockets and the the Rockets had a tailback running outside zone like he was being chased by Pennywise.

Raheim Sanders became Rocket Sanders. But the name really only caught on in football circles and Sanders stopped playing the game at age 14. He wanted to stick with basketball, joining the AAU circuit and becoming teammates with former Duke standout Vernon Carey Jr.

He had dabbled in football as a sophomore, but didn’t jump back into the sport until his junior season. Coaches from Rockledge High, on the other side of Orlando, had watched him at a summer camp and persuaded him to come play for them.

Sanders obliged.

“He was an absolute specimen when he showed up,” said Kyle Dougherty, Sanders’ high school offensive coordinator “Once he got on the field, it was reeaaalllly clear where he was gonna fit. Even in high school, he was like 6-2, 200 pounds and was faster than everyone else.”

But he was a man without a nickname.

“We all called him ‘Heim,’ ” Dougherty said. “I don’t remember any of his kids calling him (Rocket).”

Thankfully, Sanders filled in the details on Thursday.

“Going into the college (recruiting) process and getting offers,” Sanders said, “(coaches) figured out my name used to be Rocket and were like, ‘Do you wanna go by Rocket or Raheim?’ And I was like, ‘Rocket.’

“It came back to me.”

Sanders is almost unquestionably going to be South Carolina’s feature tailback in 2024. The Gamecocks return just a pair of scholarship running backs — senior Juju McDowell and sophomore Djay Braswell — but added much-needed depth with a pair of talented transfers — North Texas transfer Oscar Adaway III and S.C. State transfer Jawarn Howell — who should keep the RBs room loaded when Sanders leaves.

But that conversation is months away. Right now, Sanders is rehabbing from a shoulder surgery and is trying to stay in shape while he sits out, at least, the first part of spring practice. Sanders knows he needs to get back on the field. Knows he needs to produce. The name brings expectations.

“One thing I’m big on is with my name (being) Rocket, I’ve got all that fame behind my name,” Sanders said. “But I’m a guy (who’s) quiet and wants to show my talent.



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