This all looked so familiar – a 6-foot-3, 210-pound Air Force receiver beating a defender deep for a long score, then using his body to shield another on a 5-yard touchdown grab.
Yes, Geraud Sanders did all he could in his debut Saturday to both remind the Falcons faithful of Jalen Robinette and provide hope that life without him might be just fine.
“I look up to Jalen a lot,” Sanders said of Robinette, who used a similar body type and skill set to set an academy record with 2,697 receiving yards in a four-year career that wrapped last season. “We talk daily and he gives me critiques. I know he’s going to talk to me about this game. I look up to him like a brother. I don’t mind (the comparisons). I want to live up to it and do what he did. He was a great player here.”
Even Sanders’ single-digit No. 7 jersey elicits memories of Robinette’s No. 9.
And that debut was certainly Robinette-esque.
Sanders, a sophomore, was targeted on a deep pass on the game’s first play. His 57-yard touchdown capped the second scoring drive of the first quarter, and his 5-yard grab came four seconds in the second quarter of the Falcons’ 62-0 drubbing of Virginia Military Institute.
Those were the first two catches of his career.
Falcons quarterback Arion Worthman has thrown six touchdown passes in his career. Three of the first four came to Robinette, who became the first Falcon this century to participate in the NFL Combine and the first ever invited to the Senior Bowl. Now, Worthman's two most recent touchdowns have come to Sanders.
Worthman sees the similarities.
“I think it’s the intangibles, something you just can’t measure,” Worthman said. “With Robinette, you couldn’t measure how he’d go up and be a gamer. You can’t put a number or stat on that. I think Geraud is kind of the same way. That was the biggest question mark, right? That he hadn’t played in a game, and none of the receivers had. That was the question, would they rise up and be able to make plays when we’ve got 40,000 or whatever in the stands? I thought he answered that today, and I’m really excited for him.”
Sanders isn’t out of the woods when it comes to the battle at his position. Junior Marcus Bennett made his first two catches on Saturday. Sophomore Jake Matkovich continues to lurk as a 6-foot-5 option.
Offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen has said this is a battle that will play out only as the season progresses, and Sanders’ performance was certainly the kind that might earn trust and throw momentum his direction.
Sanders said his two-touchdown performance “really does nothing” in the quest to be the No. 1 receiver. But he’ll continue to listen to advice from Robinette, who remains at the academy as he awaits word on a discipline issue that has delayed his graduation.
“It is a very high standard, but he tells me day in and day out, ‘Be better than me,’” Sanders said. “I’m working every day to do that.”