LAWRENCE — Tony Sands has always tried to show his son that he cares.
When Deshaun was just a boy of 5 or 6 years old, Tony, a trainer for professional athletes, started working out his son at his facility in South Florida. Deshaun was a bit on the chubby side, and his more athletic friends had picked on him when he took his shirt off. Tony hasn't let up on Deshaun since.
"I've been training all my life," Deshaun says.
And this season, as Deshaun has begun his college football career as a redshirt freshman running back at Kansas, Tony has attended each game and made sure to call and talk to Deshaun after each practice. His overall message hasn't changed. Deshaun is blessed, Tony believes, to have a father who has been down the same road he is traveling.
"You gotta outwork everybody," Tony will tell him. "People are going to down you so much for your size. They'll tell you you can't do something."
Tony Sands is an involved parent. He hasn't left much to chance. Yet, when Deshaun was making his college decision, Tony backed off. Of course he wanted his son to play for the Kansas Jayhawks, just as he did, and rush for thousands of yards, just as he did.
"It's every father's dream for their child to follow them at their alma mater," Tony says, "especially if they had a lot of success at that university."
But Tony stayed quiet — or as quiet as Tony can be. When Deshaun took his visit to KU, Tony didn't come along. After all, it was Deshaun who would have to live in Lawrence and be known as Tony Sands' son, not him. Deshaun weighed the options — Purdue, South Florida, Vanderbilt and KU, among others — and went with his gut. He could be his own man at Kansas.
"I don't want anybody to look at me any different," Deshaun says, "because my father went here and he wore a tuxedo."
Of course, Deshaun has found that's an impossibility around Memorial Stadium. He will always be connected to his father because Tuxedo Tony is still a pretty big deal 19 years after his career ended. And, hey, that's just the way Tony Sands wanted it.
Tony arrived in Lawrence a 5-foot-6 running back out of South Florida at a time when 5-foot-6 running backs did not get many carries in college football. Tony wanted to show it could be done. He wanted to stand out, so he had to do something. Tony's uncle, Michael Irvin, had branded himself "The Playmaker" during his time at the University of Miami. Tony decided he would wear a tuxedo to and from every game and dub himself Tuxedo Tony.
His plan worked, but only because he ended up being one of the best running backs in school history. Tony got carries as a freshman and ended up authoring one of the most amazing single-game performances in NCAA history in his final game against Missouri as a senior. Tony carried 58 times for 396 yards and four touchdowns in a 53-29 KU blowout.
By that time, Deshaun was a year old and living with Tony and his wife, Calandra, in Lawrence. Tony didn't have an NFL career in his future, so he began working on Glen Mason's staff and helping out the strength coach. Tony discovered he had the same passion for training athletes as he did for playing the game, and by 1993, the Sands were headed back to Florida, where Tony would start his own business.
He would work with some of the top athletes in the Miami area, developing relationships with names like Deion Sanders and Emmitt Smith along the way. This is the world Deshaun grew up in, and Tony feels that helped him stay humble and respect the game and the work it takes to be great.
Deshaun made Tony's dream come true, and now the challenge is to get as much out of four years at KU as Dad did. Deshaun has gotten off to an OK start, playing in two games and carrying 18 times for 51 yards. He scored his first touchdown last Friday night against Southern Mississippi on an 8-yard run that KU called on a crucial fourth-and-3. Tony was in the stands, feeling like a kid more than a father.
"It almost brings me back to my first time putting on pads, watching him play," Tony says. "It brought back that same adrenaline rush, especially to watch him score his first touchdown."
Other than Deshaun's size — 5-7 and 190 pounds — and South Florida upbringing, he seems different than Tony. He speaks softly and does not consider himself flashy — Tony says Calandra is to thank for that.
Still, Deshaun is Tony's boy, playing the same position at Kansas. Tony has told Deshaun that he has to honor the Sands name.
"That name carries a nice light out there in the Midwest," Tony says.
Tony knows the odds of Deshaun having a career like his are slim, and not because Deshaun doesn't have the ability. Freshman James Sims has already emerged as the starter, and college teams simply don't pound the ball with one back like they used to.
"I've always told him, your goals are probably gonna be totally different," Tony says. "He wants to be successful at the University of Kansas, and he wants to be a winner there."