Antonio Gandy-Golden spent most nights in the summer of 2016 running routes under the neon glow of the video board at Williams Stadium in preparation for his collegiate career at Liberty.
There were no screaming fans or bright lights, no fanfare. He worked at his craft with the sole purpose of developing into a wide receiver who would shatter program records.
The 6-foot-4, 223-pound receiver is back on campus and again running routes at Williams Stadium or any outdoor field at Liberty that is open. His work on the turf has shifted to the mornings, and he is focused on standing out among a crowded wide receiver pool in this weeks NFL Draft.
Gandy-Goldens name is frequently mentioned as one of 21 wide receivers who could be drafted in the seven-round event, which begins Thursday and ends Saturday.
ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said last week in a conference call Gandy-Golden is one of five receivers he predicts to be taken in the third through fifth rounds.
NFL Networks Daniel Jeremiah has Gandy-Golden at No. 79 in his top 150 prospects for this weeks NFL Draft and has Gandy-Golden ranked as the 15th best wide receiver of the 23 listed in the Top 150.
I feel like everyones dream is to get drafted as high as possible, but ultimately the dream will be fulfilled as long as I have my name called, period, Gandy-Golden said Monday in a phone interview promoting the "Road to Rated Rookie" docuseries by Panini America. Im not really worried about necessarily what day it is as much as I am just being able to get my name called and actually be able to make it to a team.
Gandy-Golden could become the highest Liberty player selected in the NFL Draft since defensive back Walt Aikens was taken in the fourth round by the Miami Dolphins in 2014.
Tight end Eric Green was a first-round selection of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1990.
Antonio is such a great representative of Liberty. Obviously he had a great career, and just a wonderful young man, Liberty athletic director Ian McCaw said. Its exciting. He is projected right now to be the highest drafted Liberty football player since 1990. That says quite a lot. A number of the projections Ive seen have him listed in the top 100 selections. Were hopeful that he may go in the second or third or possibly early fourth round.
Hes a great credit to our football program. Coach [Hugh] Freeze and [wide receivers coach] Maurice Harris did a wonderful job working with him and developing him further this year. Were eager to see where he lands.
The record-setting receiver met with all 32 teams during the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine. He said he has spoken with the teams over the phone or through video conferences since the coronavirus pandemic forced NFL teams to cancel in-person visits in the draft process.
Those in-person meetings were valuable for Gandy-Golden, who had an opportunity to showcase his talents against other top-notch athletes.
I think it was real important just to let them see my personality, just ask me any questions in person that they wanted to just get a good feel for me and that aspect of it, he said. Then, of course, the performance part of it, I feel like I did well at those. Im glad they got to be able to see that in person.
Gandy-Golden ran a 4.6-second 40-yard dash and posted a 36-inch vertical leap at the combine. He turned heads when he completed 22 reps on the bench press the second-most for a wide receiver behind 23 from Wisconsins Quintez Cephus.
The strength numbers Gandy-Golden displayed at the combine backed up his gaudy highlight-reel catch-and-runs at Liberty. Scouts saw the film of him dragging defenders in games this season against Syracuse, Buffalo, Hampton, New Mexico and UMass to know he had the strength and physicality to make difficult catches at the next level.
What I liked about Antonio Gandy-Golden [during the season], not only is the fact hes got the physicality with the size to be a real factor, but I like the way he gets down the field, Kiper said. When hes down the field, hes not going to be running past people, hes not the kind of guy whos going to be a vertical stretch option, but in college he was able to do that. I was very impressed by that aspect of his game.
He could get down the field; he was able to make plays. When he looked like he was in contested situations and it wasnt going to go his way, he would come through with a reception. Even when hes covered, hell know when to break it up and not allow the defensive back to get the interception.
Gandy-Goldens preparation for the NFL Draft began in Boca Raton, Florida, at XPE Sports.
Tony Villani served as his trainer and speed coach, and former NFL standouts Cris Carter and Anquan Boldin were his receiver coaches.
Carter and Boldin were both bigger outside receivers in the NFL and taught Gandy-Golden new tricks for the next level.
At LU, Gandy-Golden overpowered smaller defensive backs with his size and used his wide catch radius and strong hands to win battles against defensive backs at Power 5 schools like Rutgers and Virginia.
He said the main aspect he worked on with Carter and Boldin, the one thats really the main part, was getting out of his breaks as a bigger receiver.
I had a lot of the other physical traits with just being able to carry my weight in that way, he said, and getting out of my breaks is very important for a bigger receiver like me.
James Jones, an NFL Network analyst and former wide receiver, said Gandy-Golden has the best hands of any receiver eligible for the draft, and Jones consistently has rated Gandy-Golden as one of his top five receivers.
You could say he didnt run that great; well, he ran good enough for a kid thats 6-4, 223 pounds, Kiper said. ... Hes got a very good stiff-arm after the catch. Hes been a guy that can break tackles after the catch. He can run across the middle. Hes got good football IQ.
His production has been off the charts. I think if you get into the fourth or fifth round, I would take a good, hard look at him.
Gandy-Golden finished his illustrious career at Liberty with 240 catches for 3,814 yards and 33 touchdowns all program records.
He posted 150 catches, 2,433 yards and 20 touchdowns during the Flames two seasons at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
I want to be remembered in a good way, Gandy-Golden said of his playing days at LU. I want them to know I was the best receiver to play here, one of the best players to play here overall, and I feel like they can look back and reminisce in a good way to when I was here.
Gandy-Goldens mother and younger twin brothers are driving from Dallas, Georgia, to Lynchburg on Wednesday and will spend the entire draft with him at his off-campus apartment.
He said his plan is to stay in and be with his family during the event, and he may have select close friends visit throughout the three days.
The only really big difference for me is just that I wont be able to have a bigger group of people, which is honestly fine, he said.
Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.
Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.
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