Georgia Tech wide receiver Adonicas Sanders’ second catch of the Yellow Jackets’ win over Miami on Saturday was stunning in its execution, and also the product of hours of work.
What wide receiver coach Kerry Dixon liked about the catch – a 20-yard reception made on the sideline in the third quarter on a third-and-10 – is that Sanders caught the ball with his arms extended. Dixon said that he “plucked” the ball, thrown by quarterback James Graham, out of the air.
“Which is something that we always talk about,” Dixon said Tuesday following the team’s practice. “If he let that ball get into his body, he’s going to be called out of bounds.”
It’s a skill that the sophomore from North Charleston, S.C., has developed in drills that Dixon said that receivers perform after every practice, part of a larger commitment that Sanders has shown to getting better. Sanders also logs time in Dixon’s office watching video to improve his technique and better understand the game. Dixon, in his 13th season as a college coach, said that Sanders studies the game “probably better than anybody I’ve been around.”
As the Jackets recuperate during their second open week of the season and begin preparations to play Pittsburgh on Nov. 2, Dixon held up Sanders as a model of his group’s improvement through seven games this season.
“I told the receivers that when you spend time with the game, the game will be nice to you,” Dixon said. “And that’s what it’s doing for Adonicas.”
In Tech’s past three games, since Sanders replaced Jalen Camp in the starting lineup following Camp’s season-ending surgery after the Temple game, Sanders has been a frequent target of Graham. Sanders has caught eight passes for 166 yards after catching three passes for 25 yards in Tech’s first four games.
Perhaps his best play this season was a catch-and-run pass against North Carolina in which he ran a short route to the sideline, caught Graham’s pass just shy of the first-down marker, accelerated away from one safety, cut so sharply upfield on the other safety that he got turned around, kept his balance after a cornerback’s tackle attempt and finally was brought to the ground after a 39-yard gain, his career long.
Sanders had five targets in Tech’s first four games and 10 in the Jackets’ past three. A year ago, Sanders played in two games in an injury-plagued season.
“I was being patient waiting on a role,” Sanders said two weeks ago. “The role came and I’m just going to make the best of it being the starter at Georgia Tech.”
Sanders is only one in a group of young receivers that Dixon is overseeing. Others include freshman Ahmarean Brown, sophomore Malachi Carter and junior Tobias Oliver. Miami transfer Marquez Ezzard is sitting out and will have three seasons of eligibility starting next year. Even Camp will be able to come back in 2020 for a second senior season.
Brown is “one of the smoothest and most polished guys I’ve been around at that young age,” Dixon said. Oliver, recently moved over from quarterback, is “just getting a little bit better each and every day” and can be a “dynamic” receiver. Carter is not having the production that was anticipated, but is showing extra effort even as the ball isn’t coming to him. Ezzard is “an unbelievable player with great ball skills, great quickness.”
Of all of the wide receivers, only Omahri Jarrett is a senior (not counting Camp, who can return next season as a fifth-year senior).
“I’m extremely excited about the future,” Dixon said. “I guess more excited than a lot of people think. But I’m living in the now and developing these young men and helping them go out there and have great success.”
Ken Sugiura is a sports columnist at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Formerly the Georgia Tech beat reporter, Sugiura started at the AJC in 1998 and has covered a variety of beats, mostly within sports.