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MERCERSBURG >> James Buchanan doesn't return many starters to its football team, but there is one big return the Rockets are looking forward to.

After spraining his MCL and missing the last four and a half games of the 2014 season, JB quarterback Dillon Sanders is ready for his big comeback.

"Honestly, I'm just glad to be back," Sanders said. "I just hopped back into things like nothing ever happened. I'm not really scared about it happening again. I mean, if it happens, it happens, but I don't even really think about it."

On the first play of the second quarter against East Pennsboro, Sanders rolled out to the right and split two defenders. One of them came from behind for the tackle, and as Sanders went down, he hit his knee. Not only was his MCL sprained, but he also dislocated his kneecap, and he was immediately done for the season.

For several weeks, Sanders went through very basic rehab. He was put in a knee brace and allowed to walk, but that was all. He then started doing exercises such as calf raises and walking slowly on his own before getting back into the weight room.

Sanders then had to get back into running comfortably before he was allowed to start making cuts. This spring, he was featured on the 4x100 relay team and in the triple jump for the Rockets' track & field team.

"I feel really confident in my knee again," Sanders said. "I'm also confident in my ability to lead the team and lead us to a good year."

Fullback Seth Carbaugh said, "I'm really glad Dillon is coming back. Last year, that really threw our offense off. We had to throw people into new positions and show them all new stuff, but with him back, everyone can be where they're supposed to be and we can run through the routine the right way."

Last year, Sanders finished 28-of-61 (45.9%) for 517 yards. He threw five touchdowns and seven interceptions. This season, Sanders has a pair of new receivers, but he feels they will be ready to go.

"Clay Ziemba and Clay Bendell are both stepping up big time," Sanders said. "They're both 6-foot-1, so they can go up and get the jump balls if need be. They're both practicing their butts off."

Sanders may also be a bit more mobile this year. In 2014, he gained just 99 yards on 45 carries, but JB coach Andy Stoner expects him to get more touches this year.

"On the offensive side, we're going to need our line to open up holes for Seth (Carbaugh) to run, and Dillon to run as well," Stoner said. "We'll be using Dillon on the ground more this year."

Going both ways will also be a new concept for Sanders, who will start at cornerback this year.

"Dillon has put himself in that situation with how mature he is, how much he has worked and improved," Stoner said. "Really, it was his mindset, though. The last couple of years, he was more focused on the offensive stuff and that's where he wanted to be, but now when we're on defense, he's on his defensive game."

Sanders does have big shoes to fill, though. His replacement was Shamar Pates, who threw for 421 yards and seven touchdowns in just over three games. But he isn't worried.

"I can't say I feel like I have to fill the shoes of Shamar," Sanders said. "I honestly feel like I just have to go out and play like Dillon."

DILLON SANDERS FILE

Grade: Senior

Size: 5-foot-10, 195 pounds

Positions: Quarterback/defensive back

Parents: Mark and Mary Sanders

Other interests: Dillon enjoys hunting, fishing and snowboarding. He also participates in track & field for the Rockets.

Favorite college team: Penn State

Favorite pro team: Washington Redskins

Favorite player: Christian Hackenberg

To view James Buchanan's full season preview, visit GameTimePA's digital football preview.

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