Liberty wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden’s eyes light up whenever he sees single coverage and relatively no safety help over the top. It takes quite a bit of restraint for the senior to not tap on his helmet as a signal to quarterback Buckshot Calvert to look his way and possibly tip off the defense to the mismatch.
It begs the question: Why is the dynamic 6-foot-4, 220-pound receiver, who leads the Football Bowl Subdivision in receiving yards, not generating more attention from defenses? It has become clearer as the season has progressed through four games that the Flames’ other receivers have become an essential part of the offense and are making defenses have to lean one way or the other with their coverage.
“They’ve been doing a great job,” Gandy-Golden said of his fellow receivers. “Our coaches have really instilled a lot of great things in us. We’ve just been working very hard in practice, so when it comes game time, everyone’s able to get open.
“Just having those guys beside me makes it great because they can’t double me. If they try to double me, we have 10 other guys that can get open and can play, too. It’s been very encouraging. It’s nice.”
Gandy-Golden has more than 100 yards receiving in three of the four games this season. He leads the nation with 544 receiving yards and an average of 136 yards per game.
The Chicago native has caught 12 passes for 355 yards and four touchdowns in the past two victories over Buffalo and Hampton.
While most of those catches are highlight-reel material — one-handed grabs on the run, hurdling defenders and carrying cornerbacks into the end zone — he has used his ability to plant his foot and quickly change direction to get open.
In one instance against Syracuse, he planted his foot on a comeback route, caught the pass and then broke several tackles on a 56-yard catch and run.
“It’s just something I feel like I can kind of add to it,” he said. “I can run, but I can also stop really quick and change direction just to misdirect the whole defense. It’s just something I feel like I’ve kind of been working on. I do practice it a good bit, too. Kind of something I added to my toolbox from the summer.”
That extra work has garnered attention from NFL Draft experts who contend his draft stock is rising.
“He’s an NFL receiver. … AGG will play in the NFL,” Flames coach Hugh Freeze said. “He’s big, strong, good hands, runs fast enough. He’ll get his chance and I can’t wait to see it for him.
“We’re not really astounded by anything we see him do.”
Gandy-Golden’s eye-popping numbers have come with teams not shading safety help over to his side, and that is a credit to the other receivers who have enjoyed equally strong starts to the season in their respective roles.
Kevin Shaa, who redshirted last season after playing four games, has easily surpassed his numbers from a year ago with 13 catches for 176 yards and a touchdown.
The redshirt junior has the speed to get behind most defenders, but his primary routes have been on quick throws or bubble screens he has turned into lengthy gains with decisive cuts to get by defenders.
The slot receivers — DJ Stubbs, Damian King and Shedro Louis — have combined for 23 catches for 272 yards and one touchdown, and Stubbs is continuing to shine after a stellar sophomore campaign with 50 catches for 631 yards.
“Once [opposing teams] see how dynamic our other guys are on the opposite side of the field, then they start to respect it. ‘We can’t double him, because if we double him, then we’re leaving somebody short on the opposite side of the field,’ and then we get more explosive plays on that side of the field,” Calvert said.
“ … When we see opportunities with AGG single high, press or off, we try to go to him. Of course, if they’re going to double-team him, we have other guys that could go run down the field, stop on a dime, just short, quick bubble routes in the slot and make people miss and get first downs.
“I think just having those explosive guys, and now we’ve got even more guys and depth at each position to make plays like that. I think that opens up a huge window for AGG catching the ball and making runs. It’s impressive.”
Gandy-Golden also has some personal goals to accomplish before the season is completed.
His next touchdown reception, the 28th of his career, will give him the most in program history, and he is closing in on Darrin Peterson’s other two records of receptions and receiving yards.
Gandy-Golden needs 31 more receptions and 209 receiving yards to become the program’s most prolific receiver.
Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.