first_imgLYNCHBURG, V.A. — Before joining his eighth grade football team, Antonio Gandy-Golden had only played one sport competitively: gymnastics. So when he dislocated his hip before the season started – sidelining him for all of what would have been his first competitive football season – he was essentially the team’s “permanent water boy,” he said. While injured, he studied football for the first time. He learned the nuances of how receivers release from the line of scrimmage and run routes, how defensive backs drop back in coverage and how quarterbacks rifle the ball to the receivers’ outside shoulders near the sidelines. As he learned more, he grew more eager for in-game action. “Ninth grade was my time to actually play and get on the field,” Gandy-Golden said. “They kinda threw me in there.” Standing at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Gandy-Golden is now on the radar of NFL teams, even considered a top five receiver by WalterFootball.com. He’s tallied back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, including a 13-catch, 192-yard and two touchdown performance against Baylor in 2017. When Syracuse travels to Lynchburg, Virginia to face Liberty on Aug. 31, it’ll have to devote serious attention to Gandy-Golden, the Flames’ top offensive threat.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“He’s just a big target and a strong guy that makes it tough for defenses on 50-50 balls to handle him,” Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze said. “He’s got decent speed so you have to worry about the deep ball too.”Eva Suppa | Digital Design EditorOn the field, Gandy-Golden can make an acrobatic catch at any time, which partly comes from his experience in tumbling. In his youth, he and his close cousin, who’s two years younger, practiced with The Jesse White Tumblers in Chicago at the behest of his mother, Mone’t Gandy. From age four until he moved to Georgia in seventh grade, Gandy-Golden harnessed his craft: tumbling. Before his first year of kindergarten, Gandy taught her son basic gymnastics. At seven years old, Gandy-Golden was already backflipping. With the tumbling company, one designed to keep inner-city kids away from the streets and involved in sports, any team member must abstain from drugs, alcohol, and gangs. They all must also stay above a C average, according to its website. Gandy-Golden tumbled for the next few years and worked his way up the program. By the beginning of seventh grade, he said he was on the track to compete in events, he said. But in 2007, Gandy-Golden had to quit the sport. Living in the dangerous neighborhood of Englewood, Gandy moved her three sons to Dallas, Georgia — half an hour northwest of Atlanta. There, Gandy-Golden joined the football team, where he became the “water boy” at first. “My balance is definitely better because of the tumbling,” Gandy-Golden said. “I’ve always been strong for my size but I have a better idea of how to jump and use my body.”Occasionally after practice, he’ll perform his tumble routine, just like he used to do in Chicago. While he only does it now when people ask him to, it’s a way to show others where he got his start. The day before training camp, when other players were backflipping on the sideline after practice, Gandy-Golden was called back to show his teammates his tumbling. With a camera in front of him, he sprinted a few yards, planted both hands in the turf of the Liberty practice football fields, and flipped twice.“He’s good at everything he does so I’m not shocked at anything he does,” senior quarterback Stephen Calvert said. Published on August 28, 2019 at 11:07 pm Contact Adam: [email protected] | @_adamhillman Now, when he leaps up in the air for 50-50 balls, Freeze and Calvert have confidence that he’ll come down with it, they said. In fact, Calvert’s favorite route to throw to Gandy-Golden is a high-arching fade, because he’s sure his receiver can reach higher than the defensive back. With the natural height and speed, learned balance and leaping ability from gymnastics, and broad shoulders from the last few years lifting weights in a Division I weight room, Gandy-Golden looks like an NFL player in workouts and now all he needs to do is refine his skills, Freeze said. That means spending extra time after practice on the jugs machine and calling Calvert or other quarterbacks to perfect the timing of back shoulder throws. Like he did in eighth grade, he still has to soak in a lot of information. “When I got here in the spring and saw him, I was like, ‘I can work with this,’’ Freeze said. “He’s got the natural skills but it’s just about learning how to do it the right way.” Commentscenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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