ATHENS — Dominick Sanders, probably over and above everything else, is a tough guy. Among the Georgia Bulldogs, he is known as man of few words who gets things done and generally doesn’t reveal a lot of himself publicly.
For whatever reason, that changed and Sanders opened up on Tuesday night. The sophomore defensive back was summoned up to the atrium level of the Butts-Mehre football complex to answer questions like he does on this night pretty much every week. But rather than offering only clipped and cryptic answers as per usual, Sanders went deep.
Asked what was his motivation for playing football at such a high level, as he has done since joining the Bulldogs last year, Sanders said simply, “my father.”
It was only after some prodding and cajoling that it could be determined that Sanders’ father is no longer with us. Johnny Morris died of a drug overdose in the family home when Sanders was 6 years old.
But Sanders didn’t reveal that fact right away.
“Man, I’d really have to say my father,” he said. “I don’t have my father in my life. Throughout the week, I just think about him. I just picture him watching me and that just gets my blood going. I just tell myself every game I’m going to execute and I’m going to do it for him.”
The execution part has been going quite well for Sanders. After showing up at Georgia as a relative nondescript 3-star prospect out of Tucker, he ended up starting every game as a true freshman. He finished with 34 tackles, three interceptions, five pass break-ups and a half-sack.
As a sophomore, he has emerged as the leader of the secondary and basically Jeremy Pruitt’s right-hand man on the field. He starts at free safety, makes all the backfield adjustments, is second in the SEC with two interceptions and has 121 return yards, including an 88-yard touchdown return against Vanderbilt.
But all the while, he revealed Tuesday, his mind is consumed with thoughts of his father, who left this Earth way too soon and is not here to see it.
“It’s just wishing he could be here, you know, to see me play,” Sanders said. “I also have a stepfather (Marlow Permenter) who’s there for me right now. He’s a wonderful stepfather. But I just think about my biological father not being there and I just wish he could be there. So every moment I have, practicing and through the games, I’m always looking up, thinking of him.”
As for the circumstances of his father’s death, Sanders says only that “it was drug-related” and that his only real memory of it is getting off the bus and having his mom telling him that Daddy passed away in the bathroom.
“After that, it just kind of had me thinking I’m going to have to step up and be a man in the household,” Sanders said. “I have an older brother and we just set goals on working hard doing anything we could to feed my little sisters and my mother.”
In high school, Sanders worked at a restaurant called Matthews Cafeteria to help make ends meet. As for his brother, Georgia fans likely have heard of him.
Chris Sanders also signed with Georgia out of Tucker High and played defensive back for the Bulldogs. But he was dismissed from the team after a theft incident that also resulted in the ouster of Nick Marshall and Sanford Seay.
The plan had always been for the two brothers to play together at UGA. But since Dominick arrived at Georgia last year, no one has been a more ardent supporter and consistent adviser than his big brother.
“He’s another one that I think about,” Sanders said of Chris. “Every Friday night we talk and he says that he sees himself in me. Play by play, he thinks of himself in my shoes. …
“That’s why I just try to keep my head straight. I think about it a lot. My mentality is just working hard, not quitting on nothing, executing. If I make a mistake, learn from it, come back and do it again.”
Understandable, now that Sanders has opened up.