Kelle Sanders never intended to be part of any reality television show.
But if it led him to a permanent college football home, so be it.
Once a promising two-way standout out of River Ridge High School in Lacey, Washington, Sanders has taken the roundabout route to NCAA Division I football.
He was once a Washington State University signee, but never stepped foot on the Pac-12 campus. Instead, he bolted to play back-to-back seasons at national junior colleges.
But this spring, the 6-foot-6, 230-pound defensive end/linebacker accepted a scholarship to play at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“If you told me I’d end up back in the South, I’d think you were crazy,” said Sanders, a Biloxi, Mississippi native. “But it is part of me now.”
On the advice from a few former summer-league teammates, Sanders enrolled in Snow College (Utah) in 2017. He played in six games as a true freshman, and had a 57-yard fumble return.
Off the field, Sanders saw it as a bad fit, and left after one season, returning to Lacey.
He was working a job at a fast-food restaurant when an assistant coach at Independence Community College in Kansas contacted him about coming out to that school’s summer training camp.
When Sanders arrived, he discovered he was the only player from Washington – and one of the few guys from the West Coast.
“(Two) of the guys on the team were from Kansas,” Sanders said. “The rest were from Georgia, Oklahoma, Florida, Alabama – from everywhere in the South.”
What else was everywhere? Television cameras.
The filming of a fourth season of “Last Chance U,” Netflix’s popular junior college football reality TV show, began last fall. And that was a part of football Sanders had to get acclimated to quickly.
“I just minded my own business,” Sanders said. “And a couple weeks into it, it was just a regular ol’ thing.”
One thing Sanders did pay attention to was how teammates positioned themselves to be part of the spotlight.
“Guys from the previous year felt the most entitled to be in front of the cameras,” Sanders said. “There was drama, just like a reality show.”
Of course, Sanders was asked most by friends and family about controversial Independence head coach Jason Brown, the cacophonous central figure of “Last Chance U’s” third season.
The fourth season is scheduled to be released in mid-July.
“I did not talk to Coach Brown at all,” Sanders said. “I couldn’t talk to him. I didn’t know how to talk to him. I just didn’t know what to say to him.”
Sanders played in the final six games at defensive end, with two starts to end the season. He had 19 tackles. Independence finished 2-8.
In February, Brown found himself in hot water after an ugly text-message exchange with one of Sanders’ teammates, and promptly resigned.
In the end of it all, Sanders’ trial-and-error move to Independence paid dividends when UAB offered him a scholarship Monday night. He graduates Saturday.
“Man, it is a blessing,” Sanders said. “Not a lot of guys come thru (JUCO) and make it out. These two years were the toughest ones of my life. I learned a lot about life … and being a man.”