March 7, 2013
Jon Cooper, Sting Daily –
Lucius Sanford knows what it takes to be the best of the best having worked to get into that select company throughout his life, on the field and off.
On the field, the Milledgeville, Ga. native was all-state in football at Atlanta’s West Fulton High School, where he was a three-sport star, he was a four-year starter and two-time All-America linebacker at Georgia Tech, then a 10-year veteran of the National Football League’s Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns.
Off the field, in the private sector, he spent nine years as part of financial giants Merrill Lynch, Chase Manhattan Bank and Equitable before coming back to Georgia Tech, where he started as Director of Student Life and is currently Executive Director of the Letterwinner Association.
Tonight, he’ll be in select company one more time. This time taking his place tonight among 11 dignitaries being honored by the Georgia Tech Black Alumni Organization (GTBAO) at its Second Annual Leaders and Legends Black Tie Awards Ceremony taking place tonight at 7:00 p.m. at the Historic Academy of Medicine at Georgia Tech (875 West Peachtree St., NW).
The event recognizes the contributions of Georgia Tech’s Black alumni and students and serves to help preserve the legacy of African-Americans to Georgia Tech. The highlight of the evening will see the organization bestow its highest honor, the “Pioneer Award” to Congressman John Lewis.
Being among the honorees is quite humbling, for Sanford, even though he has heard the applause at stadiums holding tens of thousands.
“There is no way to measure this,” he said. “We’re looking back at a period of time. We can go back and look at Tech history and see so many great people that played such a major role in history at Georgia Tech. Go back and look at a time period when African-Americans were first allowed to attend. Then to take it from that point, you look at the stories that have accumulated from that point and just being a part of it is almost unbelievable and at this point and this date in time.”
Being present to salute Lewis is especially humbling.
“I couldn’t be more excited about just being there with him,” Sanford said. “The way I see it, without him, without him playing such a major role, he and other Civil Rights leaders, like Dr. Martin Luther King, there is no way that the recipients of the awards on Friday night would ever have had the opportunity to be the best that they can possibly be.”
Sanford was at his best on the football field. A four-year starter for the Yellow Jackets (1974 through 1977), he made 14 tackles in his very first game, the ’74 season opener against Notre Dame and would set what is still the freshman record for tackles, making 124. He would lead the team in tackles the next three years and end his college career with 433 stops, fourth all-time in school history. He’d serve as a captain his junior and senior years, earn All-South Independent his final three seasons and earn Honorable Mention All-America honors as a junior and First Team All-America in 1977.
That would lead to a fourth-round selection by the Buffalo Bills in the 1978 NFL Draft, where he’d play the next 10 years.
But Sanford knew from the day he arrived on campus that his life was not going to be defined solely as an athlete.
“I’m so lucky in that my family made education such a huge event,” he said. “I look at my father attending Morris Brown. He ended up going to get his master’s at UConn. My mother, just recently, within the last five years, going back to school, my aunts and uncles going to school, it was just expected of me.”
Sanford, who was a Dean’s List student, also gives credit to his high school coach Walter Wade for sitting down with him and going over a very different playbook, a copy of the Georgia Tech curriculum.
“I went into his office and he shut the door. He did most of the talking,” he said. “He talked about what I was about to embark on over the next four years of my life. What it really means to me, how it will affect the way that I and my family live for the rest of my life and that getting my education was the most important point, was the most focus I should have coming to school. What he did was make me take ownership of coming to school.
“I remember feeling so free after walking across that stage at graduation,” he added. “That was just remarkable feeling that feeling of accomplishment.”
That feeling of freedom was something he felt obliged to share and so he talked with then-Athletic Director Dave Braine about the direction he thought Georgia Tech should be taking.
“We talked candidly about what was good and things that weren’t in place at Georgia Tech for student-athletes,” he said. “Dave kind of put a challenge out there. He said, ‘Hey, if you feel that strongly about it why don’t you come back here and work on that.'”
He had found his calling — a calling stronger than working in the private sector. In 1998, it brought him back home.
“I’d been away for a very long time, you’re talking about 20 years,” he said. “Renewing that relationship of family and being here. Not only coming back to do that but being able to be a part of something that is so important to me and my life, Georgia Tech, was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
Now he passes on his experiences and his knowledge, helping mold the next generation of the best of the best.
“It’s a challenge but it’s one that I really enjoy,” he said. “You really enjoy seeing young people and being a part of their development. You see things that they’re going through. They’re going through school and all the effort and being able to participate in sports but understanding how they are expected, once they get here, to perform, that it’s not a free ride. That those four years that you’re here, you’re responsible for those win-loss records and you’re responsible for graduating from an accomplished school and moving ahead and being successful. There is a certain expectation that they need to understand and the process, it is one that they will never, never forget.”
Since leaving the gridiron, Sanford has been anything but forgotten. He was voted to the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame in 1985 and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 2001. Tonight is another important milestone and an opportunity to gain important knowledge that he can share with Georgia Tech student-athletes.
“To get into Georgia Tech you have special a skill set that’s basically pointing you toward being successful,” he said. “So you’re really trying to aid that kid and pretty much staying in the road and staying focused and putting the effort out and being the best that they can be, having the commitment to excellence and what that’s all about. You come into work at a certain consistency every single day of your life.
“I just enjoy being here,” he added. “It’s probably more of a privilege to me being able to work with them than the other way around.”
(For a complete list of honorees and ticket information visit the GTBAO’s web site at http://gtblackalumni.org).