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WVU football: Robert Sands weighing NFL Draft options

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Somewhere in Veronica Sands' home is a piece of mail and a window to the future. Her son, Robert, is West Virginia's all-conference, all-America safety who happens to be a junior entertaining thoughts about the NFL.

No secret there. We know this because Sands tells us. In fact, he's totally open about having already submitted his paperwork to the next level and receiving the feedback for what he could expect should he choose to enter the draft.

Sands forwarded that mail to his mother, though. He doesn't know if she's opened it or not. If he's being honest - and there's no reason to believe he isn't - he doesn't much care. He'll start thinking about that in greater depth once tonight's bowl game is done.

Then again, he's already made up his mind. He's arrived at conclusions to be determined by what's in that envelope. Within is advice from the NFL that provides the general opinion from within the league for where the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Sands will be drafted.

"Third round and beyond, I'll stay," he said. "Second round, I've got to weigh my options on that. There's a lot of stuff to consider."

Absent from that thought? The first round.

"The first round," Sands said, "is the first round."

And, as such, it's irresistible.

It's also elusive for safeties and Sands is most likely to learn he's outside of it and that he'll have a decision to make. You get the feeling, though, he's nearing the end at WVU and if he isn't talking himself into it, he's talking about it.

His junior season was a weird one. He was once again wonderfully effective in the back of the defense, but he just didn't open eyes the way he did a year ago.

And Sands will admit that with everyone else.

"I feel like I could have made more plays, that I didn't do enough, that I could have helped my team more than I did," he said.

That sounds a lot like a guy who is hungry to wipe away one set of memories and replace them with new ones. It might also be a guy who wasn't really satisfied with the way things went and the circumstances that contributed to his mood.

Sands was hurt throughout the year and wasn't getting paid to play with the pain. The shoulder and knee injuries that bothered him from start to finish maybe conspired to drop his tackle total from 65 last year to 45 this year and his interception count from five to one.

Then again, that was Robert Sands in the secondary. The opposition knew that and pretty much stayed away.

"I experienced a lot of lonely games. A lot of lonely games," he said. "There's not much action going on back there when teams scheme against you."

That is Sands' great contribution to WVU's defense this season. His reputation was as chaotic as his play. Teams focused on him, but had to deal with Bruce Irvin and Anthony Leonard and Sidney Glover as a result.

Over time, Sands was freed up to do more blitzing and more loitering around the line of scrimmage than he had in the past, but more often than not, he played his part.

You just wonder if that's the sort of thing that excites Sands and invites him back to do it again next season. No one's forgetting how good he is and what he can do to an offense. That, as much as anything else, is a key to this decision.

It's just not the key.

Sands is deeply aware of the uncertain state of the NFL's labor situation. The league is nearing an expiration date for the current Collective Bargaining Agreement. The first work stoppage since 1987 is entirely possible. Sands knows that and has even troubled himself to figure out why.

"If you think about it, the reason why this whole lockout thing may be coming is you've got Sam Bradford making more than Tom Brady," Sands said. "That's what's got some of the veteran guys upset. You've got people coming in who haven't played a down making more than veterans who've been in Pro Bowls. That's making people upset and they might try to put a cap on what a rookie can make.

"To be honest, if I was going for the money, I'd leave now."

If the players and the owners cannot make a deal and the owners lock out the players, there is no league for Sands to play in next season. Perhaps he plays it safe and stays in school and the unrest is settled by this time next year. He knows the money he could make then isn't what he might make now.

The current CBA expires in March. Sands has to make up his mind way before that.

"I feel like it's a double-edged sword," Sands said. "They say they might have a lockout year, but right now, who's to say they're actually going to have a lockout? At this point, what I hear is there's a strong possibility they are going to have a lockout. At the same time, if I come back for another year and they restructure the contracts, you're probably not going to get paid the same."

Sands, who is enrolled to take classes next semester, insists it's not about the money. He'll visit his home in Miami after the bowl and open the letter and begin to reach his conclusion. He'll call people he know and trusts and people he doesn't know, but still trusts because, as he said, "I don't mind hearing people's opinions on what I should do."

In the end, Sands said he'll move to isolate himself from everyone and everything and make the right call.

"My friends constantly ask me, 'What are you going to do?'" he said. "Everyone is constantly asking me what I'm going to do, even my teammates. I tell them all the same thing: 'You'll know when I know.'"

Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mikec@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.


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