So, Pascagoula High senior safety Antonio Sanford had an OK night last Friday as the Panthers roughed up Hattiesburg 44-20 in an important district game at War Memorial Stadium. Eh, looks like I used up my understatement quota for the week right there.
Actually, here’s what young Mr. Sanford did under the lights on Homecoming Night on October 2: four interceptions returned for two touchdowns (one for 67 yards), five tackles, a fumble recovery, and a total of 186 return yards. By any measure, at any level, that is a career night, my friends. The fact that Antonio did it in a big game on homecoming made it even sweeter.
“To be honest, it meant everything to me just knowing I had a great night like that,” said Antonio, a thoughtful and well-spoken young man. “I can’t express how long I’ve waited on this moment, and now it’s finally here. I dedicated that game to my aunt who passed away from stage 4 breast cancer and to my grandma who passed away when I was younger. If it wasn’t for them, and my team and coaches being by my side the whole game, I couldn’t have done it.”
You read something like that, and it makes you feel good about the young folks we have coming up around here. Panther Head Coach Lewis Sims would certainly agree.
“Antonio has been a starter for the past three years,” said Coach Sims. “Not only has he been a valuable member of our defensive backfield, but he has also been an extremely exciting kick returner. Antonio is a very unique student-athlete. He keeps to himself and has a quiet side that most do not see. When he gets fired up, he is one of the best players I have ever coached.”
Let’s put Antonio’s four-interception night into perspective. In doing so, he tied the all-time Panther record for interceptions in one game, originally set by Pascagoula Athletic Hall of Famer Eugene Winstead against Picayune in 1961. As with many positions, Pascagoula has had a wealth of defensive back stars over the years, including the great Terrell Buckley, Lynn Thomas, Tommy Woodson, Eddie Ray Walker, and Brandon Rich, to name a few. We’re talking about College Football Hall of Famers, Super Bowl stars, and Heisman Trophy finalists. None of those luminaries ever intercepted four balls in one game, not to mention turning two into pick-sixes.
Listen to Antonio dissecting how he made the big plays: “I did see a transition of the quarterback, and as soon as I saw the chance to capitalize, I took it. I could tell from the first throw that he was a very easy read and I could predict where he was going. As all this was playing in my head, it just started happening, so I took my opportunities and came out with the picks.”
Sounds to me like when Antonio’s playing days are over, he could certainly become a coach. Speaking of coaching, Sanford was quick to credit the Goula staff for preparing him through the years.
“Coaching plays the most important role because without them, I wouldn’t have been able to perform the way I did,” said Antonio. “Shoutout to all my DB coaches who made this possible and kept my head focused throughout the game. Special thanks to Coach Tomes, who coached me up since my ninth grade year. I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in today without him.”
Coach Sims echoed Sanford’s comments about the importance of the coaching he has received.
“Jon Tomes is our defensive backs coach,” said Lewis. “He has a few guys that have helped him over the years, like Kevin North and Drex McCann, along with a few others who lend an extra set of eyes on this difficult position to coach. Coach Tomes learned from one of the best in Luther Kuykendall. We always study film and try to put our guys in positions to make plays. Last week, Tony was really locked in at his safety position. The coaches prepared him for what he would see, and he executed to perfection.”
Certainly, Coach Sims sees great things ahead for Antonio.
“During his career, Tony has always had a nose for the football. If he continues to work and improve his craft, he will continue to get opportunities to play this game at the next level.”
As for Antonio right now, he is enjoying his senior season and feels the best is yet to come for the team.
“Even more than a team, I would call us a family, because the way we have all come together over the past couple of years is unbelievable,” said Antonio. “All my teammates congratulated me on the interceptions, but all I could tell them was that it wasn’t for y’all, it wouldn’t have been possible. They always help me mentally and physically on the field as we play, and I’m beyond thankful for them all. I’m grateful I can be labeled a Panther, because, following our W.A.R.F.A.C.E. motto, we Work with great Attitude and always stay Respectful. We are a Family who holds our actions Accountable for ourselves and always keep good Character with lots of Enthusiasm.”
After hearing that, I’m about ready to hit somebody myself. More importantly, it is just very gratifying to see that we have young men like Antonio Sanford representing us on the gridiron for Pascagoula and as student-athletes in the community. Congratulations, Antonio: keep it up and you’ll go far—and while you’re at it, take a couple more interceptions back to the house for us this year.
Richard Lucas may be contacted ar [email protected].