PORT ANGELES — Nobody was beating down Josh Sanford’s door following his senior year of high school.
Then a 6-foot-2, 260-pound all-league left tackle for the Port Angeles Roughriders, he lacked the size, noteworthiness or even the grades to turn the heads of Division I recruiters.
So he packed his bags and headed 580 miles south to the College of the Siskiyous in Weed, Calif.
It was the closest community college football program in the Pacific Northwest, and the only route left for a player determined to realize his dream of playing at the highest level of college football.
“It’s really something I wanted to push for,” said Sanford, a Port Angeles class of 2007 graduate.
“I wanted to grab an achievement that I always wanted to do.”
Fast forward four years later, and Sanford has done more than achieve his goal.
A reserve lineman for the Oregon Ducks, he will head to his second straight BCS bowl when the Ducks take on the Wisconsin Badgers on Jan. 2 in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
Not only has he got on the field in several games for the Pac-12 champions this season and last, he’s also earned himself a scholarship and is a few months from getting a Bachelor of Arts in sociology.
Of course, none of it came easy for the self-made player.
And that is what makes it so rewarding for a Moalla, Ore., native who fell in love with football while learning about it from his older brother, Paul.
“Our team has been able to go to three BCS bowls in a row, and I don’t think any other college team has been able to do that,” said Sanford, now a 6-2, 276-pound 23-year-old.
“Being able to be a part of this team during this time . . . I’ve loved every minute of it.”
Sanford wasn’t completely lacking in physical skills when he came out of Port Angeles.
He lettered in three sports for the Riders and was a state champion weight lifter on former Port Angeles coach Keith Moorman’s Olympic weightlifting team his senior year.
The one thing he didn’t have, however, were good grades.
His 2.8 high school grade point average was a detriment to schools’ interest in him, and that was one of the first things he knew he had to turn around when he got to Siskiyous.
Without losing a beat on the football field he managed to do just that, putting up a 3.7 GPA in his two years in California.
He earned all-conference honors his freshman and sophomore seasons as a starting tackle for the Eagles, then went about the business of selling himself to Division I coaches.
Washington State told him they were set, but Oregon offensive line coach Steve Greatwood invited Sanford to walk on in Eugene.
Following a redshirt season, he was added to the team as a backup guard in 2010 and played in games against Portland State and UCLA as the Ducks reached the BCS title game.
Prior to this season, he was then offered a scholarship for his final year on the team.
“He’s carved himself a niche on the team, and you like to reward a young man like that,” Greatwood said.
“It’s really neat to see the way he’s made himself into a better player over the course of his career here . . . his attention to detail, his footwork, just really improving himself.
“He fills an important role for us. He’s earned it. He deserves it.”
One of the biggest challenges of coming to Oregon was picking up head coach Chip Kelly’s fast-paced no-huddle offense.
Sanford had previously experienced a no-huddle attack while playing under former Rider head coach Matt Gracey his junior and senior years.
But he concedes it was nothing like what the Ducks run; a system so rapid and quick hitting that opposing teams have faked injuries just to slow it down.
“It’s like learning a new language [getting to know the Oregon offense]. When you’re doing that it actually sort of slows you down,” Greatwood said.
“As he’s grown with his knowledge base, his athletic ability has been able to take over and show what he can do. I love the effort he brings every play as far as getting on blocks and finishing blocks.
“He does a great job.”
Football has become something of a full-time job for Sanford.
Between winter conditioning and weight training, spring practices and summer drills, there’s hardly time for anything else.
But all of that comes with its rewards, like running out onto the field with the team for each home game.
“I don’t think anybody can really describe what it’s like going out into Autzen Stadium,” Sanford said.
“That place is so loud. I think there was one time when I almost went deaf because of how loud it’s been. It’s just an amazing wow factor.”
As a member of the Ducks travel team, Sanford has been able to suit up for every game this season.
He played in games against Missouri State, Nevada, Arizona, UCLA and Oregon State this year.
There are no guarantees he’ll get out on the field for the Rose Bowl — he wasn’t able to play in last year’s BCS title game loss to Auburn — but Sanford is holding out hope.
“You never know,” Greatwood said.
“Two years ago, when we were down [at the Rose Bowl], I had a walk-on center that ended up playing a good part of the game when the starting center [went out with an injury].
“I think I know one thing: He’ll be ready to go if I need to call on him.”
________Sportswriter Matt Schubert can be reached at 360-417-3526 or [email protected]