Male Area Athlete of the Week: Sanford filling up the stat sheet for Aitkin
Aitkin senior is athlete of the week
Gus Sanford is finally healthy.
The Aitkin senior came into the basketball season nursing a sprained shoulder. He suffered the injury on the first play of the Gobblers’ Section 7-3A football final against Esko.
“It was a Grade 2 shoulder sprain,” Sanford said. “It was kind of a serious injury that can be a season-ender, but I’m starting to barely feel it and I feel really good.”
Now that the injury has nearly healed, Sanford is picking it up on the basketball floor. He scored 31 points against Virginia and 27 points against International Falls in a weekend tournament Feb. 11-12. That was followed by a 38-point performance to beat Crosby-Ironton in overtime Tuesday, Feb. 15.
“Through the first eight weeks of the year he wasn’t himself,” Aitkin head coach Scott Stanfield said. “But the last two weeks you could see it in practice starting to come and the movement was better. But offensively, he’s not forcing anything and really waiting for the game to come to him and his teammates are finding him at the right time.”
Sanford wasn’t the only Aitkin player coming into the season a little banged up.
“I just think we are starting to get a little healthy,” Sanford said. “Myself and some other teammates were hurt and sick. We switched up some stuff on offense and coach Stanfield told me to don’t even hesitate when I’m out there and shoot it and that’s kind of what I’ve been doing.”
Sanford said he is still rehabbing his shoulder injury while still playing basketball. Last week, he said it was one of the first times he didn’t feel hurt while playing and it was freeing.
“It helps me get to the rim and get to the free throw line without having to worry about taking shots from bigger guys which is probably my main advantage — just being stronger than the people that guard me,” Sanford said. “It opens everything up now that I’m pain free.”
Last season, Sanford averaged 7.3 points per game on 44% shooting.
“Last year, we graduated three players and they were all very good,” Sanford said. “This year, I’ve taken on the leadership role of the basketball team and if I play relaxed and confident everyone else falls in line.”
In football this fall, Sanford was Aitkin’s leading rusher with 885 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.
Stanfield called Sanford a herky-jerky type player.
“What I mean by that is that he hesitates with the ball a lot, creating some problems with defenders,” Stanfield said. “His pull up jumper has improved and he’s getting to the foul line and he’s improved there also. He’s just slowed down a little bit and that’s the case with him. He’s just seeing things better.”
With all the injuries and sickness the Gobblers were dealing with at the start of the season, despite the 6-12 record Aitkin feels like a different team after its three-game winning streak.
“We are in way better shape and our points per game has gone up,” Sanford said. “We are just tough matchups because we have tough guards.”
Beating C-I was extra sweet after losing to them in overtime earlier in the season.
“It’s probably the greatest sports moment of my career,” Sanford said. “Just an incredible atmosphere and they’ve had our number in basketball the last two years.”
Other notable performances:
Basketball: Eli Laposky, Pequot Lakes, scored 24 points against Park Rapids
Jaxon Janski, Little Falls, scored 23 points against Willmar.
Andrew Bueckers, Pine River-Backus, scored 22 points against Cass Lake-Bena.
Noah Oberfeld, Pierz, scored 24 points against Albany.
Carsen Turk, Crosby-Ironton, scored 28 points against Moose Lake-Willow River.
Brandon Greenwaldt, Verndale, scored 23 points against Bertha-Hewitt.
Highlights: He scored 31 points against Virginia and 27 points against International Falls.