Four-year starters are rare in the football-rich Southeastern Conference, but former Georgia safety Dominick Sanders owns the distinction.
Sanders, now a member of the Spokane Shock, also had the uncommon experience of playing on college football’s grandest stage.
Georgia’s 26-23 overtime loss to SEC rival Alabama in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship was the last of his 53 career starts.
It was also the most painful.
Sanders was on the backside of the Bulldogs’ defense when Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa fired a winning 41-yard touchdown pass to DeVonta Smith.
Tagovailoa found a sizable gap between Sanders and cornerback Malkom Parrish and acted accordingly, hitting a streaking Smith in stride to end the game in walk-off fashion.
Sanders blames himself for the blown coverage after being admittedly deceived by the then-freshman quarterback who now starts for the Miami Dolphins.
“It takes a lot to look me off (in pass coverage), but he did,” Sanders reflected earlier this week. “It was a great pass. They made a big play. It didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but I learned from it.
“I thank God to be part of something like that. I hate the way that it ended, but it taught me something.”
Sanders’ time in Athens, Georgia, mostly was good, otherwise.
The All-SEC talent left Georgia in 2018 as the school’s career leader in interceptions (16) while totaling 156 tackles. He also has Georgia’s school record in interception return yards.
He exhibited those abilities for the Shock on May 22 in a 34-26 win against the Massachusetts Pirates when he took a fourth-quarter interception 41 yards to the end zone.
Sanders is embracing his time in the Indoor Football League, a brand of football he is still learning.
“He is a big-time player,” Shock coach Billy Back said. “He can be here for a long time or until (a bigger league) picks him up. He started out as maybe our fifth-best defensive back, but he is really starting to pick up and understand the indoor game”
After a sterling career at a Power 5 contender, many figured Sanders would eventually find his way to a NFL draft pick as either a late-round selection or rookie free agent.
But a lack of size (5-foot-11) and pedestrian 40-yard dash time of 4.65 seconds kept NFL teams from extending Sanders a contract.
Sanders, 25, bounced around NFL tryouts much of 2018 before going the indoor route, making his debut in Columbus, Ohio, in 2019 before signing with the Shock before a 2020 season that was canceled due to the pandemic.
“Bouncing from tryout to tryout, I wanted to keep going and to know there is a lot of football left to be played, whether it be IFL, NFL, XFL or CFL,” Sanders said. “Whatever door opens, take that opportunity.”
When football is over, Sanders, who studied kinesiology at Georgia, wants to return to the Bulldogs as a safeties coach.
Until then, Sanders wants to help the Shock (1-1), who face the Northern Arizona Wranglers (0-2) on the road on Saturday, win an IFL title.
“It’s great being up here, especially with a lot of teammates from the South who I remember (from the SEC),” Sanders said.
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