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May 11, 2014

Former SHSU RB Timothy Flanders signs with New Orleans Saints as undrafted free agent

HUNTSVILLE — Less than an hour after going undrafted Saturday, former Sam Houston State standout running back Timothy Flanders signed with the New Orleans Saints as a free agent.

Flanders knew he would land somewhere this weekend, whether he was drafted or not, and New Orleans appeared to be the likely destination. It’s the only team visit Flanders took during the scouting process and he hit if off with running backs coach Dan Roushar on April 9.

The situation works out perfectly for the all-time Southland Conference rushing and scoring leader, who idolized the Saints growing up as a fan.

“It’s crazy. You don’t see that happen too often,” Flanders said of signing with his childhood favorite. “At the end of the day, I just want to play. I’m happy and very excited to get down there and start working.”

As an undrafted free agent, the rookie will have to earn his spot on the 53-man roster. Flanders’ best chance at seeing the field will be proving himself on special teams and mastering the offensive playbook.

New Orleans had five running backs on its roster in 2013, but only Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram carried the ball more than 55 times. Thomas, the Saints’ top running back, was also an undrafted free agent out of Illinois in 2007.

Former Sam Houston coach Willie Fritz said he was glad to see the Saints show interest in Flanders.

“I think it will be a great opportunity for him,” Fritz said.

“Sometimes, when you get down to those last two rounds, it’s almost better to sign as a free agent because you kind of get to pick who you want to go to, rather than them telling you where to go.”

Still, Flanders admitted it was disappointing to not hear his name called. He wanted to be part of the 2014 draft class, which featured the likes of Jadeveon Clowney (No. 1 overall, Houston Texans), Johnny Manziel (No. 22 overall, Cleveland Browns) and Huntsville’s own Justin Gilbert (No. 8 overall, Cleveland Browns).

In his four seasons with the Bearkats, Flanders rushed for 5,664 yards and 66 touchdowns on 999 carries (5.7 yards per carry). Flanders had a career-high 414 receiving yards on 34 catches in 2011, when the Kats made the first of back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Game.

So how does someone with Flanders’ college football résumé not get drafted?

“I felt like I did everything I can,” he said. “I have the film. I proved it against Texas A&M and Baylor. I proved it at the East-West Shrine Game. It’s just one of those things, you never know. I wanted to get drafted. I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t want to. But I’m over it now and it’s time to move on from it.”

From what coaches say about him, Flanders has all the tools to become a solid pro running back, from pass blocking and blitz protection to his ability to catch it out of the back field like his college numbers suggest.

“He can do everything,” Fritz said. “He catches the ball really well. In the NFL, the backs have to be able to catch the ball well and he certainly does that. We didn’t use him quite as much the last two years throwing the ball to him as we did his first two years. But he does a really good job of catching the ball. He’s physical enough to be able to block, pick up blitzes, defensive ends. He’s a lot stronger than people think he is. He’s got great strength and you can’t arm tackle the guy.

“The big thing, I guess, that kept him from getting drafted was that he didn’t run as fast as they wanted him to (4.75 40-yard dash at NFL Scouting Combine). But I sure saw him run away from a lot of people in four years.”

Flanders said he expects to leave for New Orleans either today or some time early this week. Even though he was a star at Sam Houston and has goals of being one in the NFL, Flanders has already prepared himself mentally to work his way up from the bottom.

“I played special teams my first year at Sam,” he said. “I was on punt team, blocking on kick return and stuff like that. I even did some in the East-West Shrine Game. I think I’ll be fine doing it. I’m going to do what I can to try to get on the 53-man roster, or at least the practice squad.

“I’m just going to go out there, gain the respect of my teammates, work my way up and try to get on the special teams.”

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