By Andy Demetra (The Voice of the Yellow Jackets) | Inside The Chart
The first name has always drawn attention. It’s a takeoff of his Mom’s name, Donna, though to some it gives him a more … immortal bearing.
“I get a lot of compliments about my name. They think I’m like a Greek god or something,” Adonicas Sanders says.
His accent draws attention, too. At first his Georgia Tech teammates didn’t know what to make of it.
“They heard me talk. They kept asking me where I’m from. I always tell them Charleston, South Carolina. They were like, ‘You can’t be from Charleston, South Carolina,’” he recalls.
His accent is actually Geechee, from the Gullah Geechee, descendants of slaves who inhabited the coastal plains regions of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. The Geechee maintain a rich cultural presence in the Charleston area, including their own Gullah language. Their mellifluous accent is often mistaken for Caribbean.
And now, at long last, Sanders has gained attention for what he has sought the most: meaningful playing time for Georgia Tech. After a season-ending injury to leading wide receiver Jalen Camp, the 6-1, 195-pound redshirt sophomore has stepped up admirably, climbing to second on the Yellow Jackets in receptions (11) heading into Saturday’s showdown with Pittsburgh at Bobby Dodd Stadium (4 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Learfield IMG College).
“Adonicas did a really good job of attacking the moment – just a ‘next man up’ mentality. He spends a ton of time in the office, just trying to get better, understanding technique, trying to know the game and learn the game,” said wide receivers coach Kerry Dixon.
Sanders’ moment arrived, as it often does, thanks to injury. He had been solidly entrenched on Tech’s “Above The Line” chart since the season opener, but only had one catch through his first three games. After Camp underwent season-ending surgery on Oct. 1, Sanders made his first-career start the following Saturday versus North Carolina. He responded with three catches for 67 yards. He was named a captain for Georgia Tech’s next game at Duke, where set a career high with 69 receiving yards with his family in attendance.
None of this surprises Dixon, who has seen his relentless preparation first-hand.
“He actually does a really good job of studying the game – probably better than anybody I’ve been around,” Dixon noted. “I told the receivers that. I said, ‘When you spend time with the game, the game will be nice to you. And that’s what it’s doing for Adonicas.”
His production has also been the result of painstaking patience. Sanders racked up the accolades at Fort Dorchester High School, a large-school power in North Charleston, S.C., where he won a state championship as a junior catching passes from his cousin Dakereon Joyner, now a backup quarterback at South Carolina. Playing in a spread offense, Sanders set a Fort Dorchester record for career receiving yards even though he only attended the school for two years.
Georgia Tech has a storied history with Charleston – in addition to Alvin’s Joe Hamilton, his cousin, Harvey Middleton (1994-97), graduated as Tech’s all-time leader in receiving yards – but Sanders’ stats struggled to attract suitors. By the time his senior season ended, Sanders didn’t have a single Football Bowl Subdivision scholarship offer. He says he would have likely signed with Presbyterian or South Carolina State had Georgia Tech not offered him following an official visit in December. The Jackets turned out to be his only FBS offer.
Low profile or not, the stoic Sanders made a quick impression on The Flats. In his first week of preseason camp, quarterback Matthew Jordan noted that he was already “popping eyes” (not to mention perking ears with his accent). A one-handed, Odell Beckham Jr.-like catch became the talk of an early practice.
“I said to myself, ‘When I step on that field, I’m going to make as many plays as possible.’ It was just always a dream for me to play college football and make plays in front of thousands of people,” Sanders said.
Low profile or not, Sanders made a quick impression on The Flats. In his first week of preseason camp, then-Jackets quarterback Matthew Jordan noted that he was already “popping eyes” with his play (not to mention perking ears with his accent). A one-handed, Odell Beckham Jr.-like catch became the talk of an early practice.
That buzz didn’t translate to playing time. Sanders redshirted in 2017, then was slowed by a collarbone injury during preseason camp in 2018. He appeared in just two games, both blowouts, against Bowling Green and Virginia Tech. He said his love for football started to wane by the time head coach Geoff Collins arrived in December.
His message of running an “entitlement-free program” invigorated him.
“You’ve got to work for what you want. I was like, ‘I’ll outwork everybody,’” Sanders recalls.
That hard work has now elevated him to a featured role in the Yellow Jackets’ offense, where his quick feet and burst off the line – “as good as anybody I’ve been around,” according to Dixon – have made him a weapon. Dixon points to Sanders’ catch on a third-and-10 in the second half of Tech’s win over Miami as proof of his dedication to details. As quarterback James Graham scrambled, Sanders darted toward the sideline on a dead sprint. Graham threw a bullet, which Sanders caught – and kept a foot inbounds, much to the disbelief of the Miami players in front of him.
“The one thing that goes unnoticed is he caught that ball and extended his hands away from his body and just plucked it out of the air, which is something that we always talk about. If he lets that ball get into his body, he’s going to be called out of bounds,” Dixon said.
His next opportunity to showcase those skills comes Saturday. Unlike previous times, Adonicas Sanders won’t have to wait much longer.