If Georgia's freshmen want guidance on being Bulldogs, they should look no further than Dominick Sanders.
Sanders was a playmaker throughout his sophomore season in 2015, reeling in six interceptions on 38 targets. As one of the most established players on the Bulldogs’ defense, the junior safety is highly regarded by many, including his teammates.
As a result, some of Georgia’s freshmen have picked the junior’s brain leading up to Saturday’s game against North Carolina.
“I just pretty much tell the young guys to stay focused,” Sanders said. “The crowd's going to be there, but play the game like the crowd is not there. Think of it as practice, doing what we've got to do and staying focused.”
Even though it’s been two years since he made his collegiate debut, Sanders remembers the lead-up to his big moment vividly.
He recalls then-defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt announcing he would get the nod at safety against Clemson during the final week of the preseason. He also repeated Pruitt’s warning pregame that the Tigers would certainly try and exploit his inexperience once they had the ball.
But what has stuck with Sanders most of all was the capacity crowd in Sanford Stadium that day.
“I couldn't stop looking up,” Sanders said. “That moment will stick with me forever.”
Sanders said he totally shook his nerves by the third game of that 2014 season mostly due to his experience in the moment. That attitude of knowing what to do is what he’s stressing to those freshmen, even if they’ve never been in such a big situation before.
“That's another thing I tell my young guys going into this game: Play like you're us,” Sanders said. “We're all the same. It doesn't matter if you're younger or older. Just go out there, be aggressive and execute.”
Sanders isn’t the only upperclassman offering advice to the younger players. Outside linebacker Davin Bellamy explained that he’s also fielded questions from teammates as the hours tick away before the first kickoff.
Now a junior like Sanders, Bellamy has witnessed his role transition from being the player with no clue to the person with most of the answers. Back when he was inexperienced, he leaned on players such as Toby Johnson, Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins. Now he’s the one trying to lead his younger teammates in the right direction.
“It definitely puts you in a different role,” Bellamy said. “You have to think about others more so than yourself a lot of times. I love when the young guys come talk to me.”
As helpful as the veterans such as Sanders and Bellamy can be, they as well as their teammates understand the talk can only mean so much. Sanders drew from the words of men like Pruitt, but he still was on his own when the Tigers threw two deep bombs on the first drive that August evening. Bellamy had plenty of people in his ear, but it didn’t prevent him from sitting on the bench until the third game of his freshman year.
In the end, it’s up to each player to take the advice from the likes of Sanders and Bellamy and translate it into something tangible on the field.
“We’ve put in the work,” Bellamy said. “Our coaches have tried to make practice as hard as they can so the games can come easy for us. At the end of the day, just go out there and trust your training.”