As the first half of Georgia’s game at Arkansas on Oct. 18 was winding down, Bulldogs defensive back Dominick Sanders produced a highlight he will never forget.
And he showed that he’s still a freshman.
After outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins broke through to sack and strip Razorbacks quarterback Brandon Allen, Sanders scooped up the loose ball and raced 54 yards for a touchdown.
Sanders had a wide-open field and an escort from outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter as Georgia built a 38-6 lead on its way to a 45-32 win.
“When I saw all that green grass, I knew I couldn’t get caught,” Sanders said. “I knew I had to keep looking forward and not look back. I wound up looking back a couple of times, and I know I shouldn’t have, but I kept running.”
This is the proverbial point in a season when “freshmen aren’t freshmen anymore,” and that adage certainly could apply to Sanders, a 6-foot, 190-pounder from the Atlanta suburb of Tucker. Among the least-touted members of Georgia’s 2014 signing class, Sanders has entered a rebuilding secondary under first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and quickly capitalized.
— Dominick Sanders
Sanders was a surprise starter in the opening rout of Clemson and is the only defensive back who has started all seven games entering this week’s contest against Florida in Jacksonville. He also is the only true freshman to start every game for the No. 9 Bulldogs, though he has been overshadowed this month by tailback classmate Nick Chubb.
“For the most part, I don’t look at guys like that as unproven players anymore,” Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said. “They have both proven that they can play at this level. They’ve proven they’re young and that they’re not perfect, but they’re competing well.”
Sanders is the younger brother of Chris Sanders, a member of Georgia’s 2011 signing class who played three games at cornerback as a freshman. The elder Sanders was dismissed from the program in February 2012 — along with fellow cornerback and current Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall — and is now on Baylor’s roster.
The younger Sanders first committed to Arkansas but was coveted by Pruitt and signed with Georgia. Through his first seven games, he has tallied 19 tackles, one tackle for loss, one interception and a fumble-return score.
“He’s done a very good job,” Richt said. “He’s very conscientious, and he practices with a purpose. He’s kind of a no-nonsense guy and is very teachable. He’s had his rough days out there, but what Coach Pruitt likes about him is how he goes about his business every day.
“If he’s making a mistake, he’s making it full speed.”
So is Sanders still feeling like a freshman these days?
“I am a freshman, but I feel like I’ve made a big improvement,” he said. “I still have a lot to learn, but I am doing a lot for a freshman. I’m getting better overall, and I’ve just learned a lot more.”
“My motivation was always there, but I am getting more comfortable. The biggest challenge for me is playing against these receivers, because there are some good receivers in the SEC.”