ATHENS – Dominick Sanders is five interceptions away from diminishing the legacy of his head coach.
OK, that’s going a bit far. It sounds like Kirby Smart would be perfectly fine with it. But it’s still an interesting dynamic in the secondary as the season begins.
Smart, who was a Georgia safety from 1995-98, begins the season tied for fifth all-time at Georgia in interceptions. The school’s media guide only lists the top five all–time. Sanders stands a good chance of knocking his coach out of the record books.
“He joked around one day, and was like: ‘I want you to have more interceptions than I did,'” Sanders said, smiling.
How many did Smart have?
“He had 13,” Sanders said.
How many do you have?
“I have nine,” Sanders said.
After a few moments, Sanders started laughing.
“I’m not looking to tie him,” he said. “I’m looking at having the most interceptions as a Georgia defensive back here.”
That’s attainable: The record is jointly held by Jake Scott (1967-68) and Bacarri Rambo (2009-12), who each had 16. Sanders has two years to break it – or just one, depending on his future plans.
A reporter asked Sanders if Smart offered him a deal: Don’t break my record and you have to come back for your senior year. Sanders laughed.
“No, no deal like that,” he said.
The very reason Sanders is at Georgia is interceptions; he was lightly-recruited coming out of Tucker High School, but when he racked up 10 interceptions in four playoff games.
“That season I wasn’t getting a lot because I was expecting to just run at the ball,” Sanders said. “But those four playoff games I sat down with my coach and he actually explained, This is how it should be done, why you’re not getting picks, what needs to be done in the back end for you as a secondary player. And I ended up having 10 interceptions.”
Someone at Georgia took notice: Jeremy Pruitt had just been hired as Georgia’s defensive coordinator and secondary coach. He took a fresh look at the recruiting board, and decided Sanders’ ball-hawking abilities made him worthy of a scholarship offer.
He was right, and then some: Sanders was named first-team All-SEC last season, and has started 25 of 26 games at Georgia (the exception was a one-half suspension for targeting).
Sanders credited Pruitt – now Alabama’s DC and secondary coach – for teaching him sound technique, eye control and learning from his mistakes. Now he not only has Mel Tucker, a former NFL defensive coordinator and secondary coach, but Smart, who knows what it’s like to be a ball-hawking safety at Georgia.
“You know, I’m not focused on (breaking his record), but it’s just fun having a coach joke around like that,” Sanders said. “And also, just show you the steps, and show you the way he was as a defensive back.”