Lucius Sanford. Courtesy Georgia Tech Athletic Association.
Remembering Lucius Sanford, one of the best defenders in Georgia Tech football history. This story is part of a long-delayed series on the greatest Peach State athletes by jersey number.
In February of 1956 the town of Milledgeville, Georgia welcomed Lucius Martin Sanford, Jr. into the world. By 1974 Lucius would start his Campaign of Pain across college football stadiums of the Southeast that would continue on into 10 seasons in the NFL.
The Buffalo Bills Alumni Spotlight says, "Lucius Sanford, an outside linebacker with Buffalo for nine seasons, had a tendency to hit running backs head-on, lift them off their feet and plant their backs on the field. Offensive linemen had 'pancake blocks', Sanford had 'pancake tackles." Well ... that is not a surprise. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets fans had been watching Sanford pancake opponents for four years.
When Lucius was at Tech, I was in high school. When I did not have a football game of my own to play, and Tech was playing at home, you could find me sitting in the upper West Stands. From my vantage point, when Lucius made a tackle, you often did not even need to see the number or wait to hear the announcer - you knew who did it. The Bills description is accurate; he would literally wrap his guy up and slam. Just as my high school coach had tried to teach us.
Often before the announcer could even give him credit for the tackle, the student section would launch into a chant of "LUUUUcius, LUUUUcius." A couple of years ago, I had a conversation with him and asked how he felt about those chants. He said he was actually embarrassed. (At that point I was glad I did not jump into an impromptu version.) He only wanted to do his job, and did not care for being singled out.
Sanford was a three sport letterman at Atlanta's West Fulton High School in football, track and basketball. He chose to be a bit selective in the recruiting process. As he was whittling his college choices, Tech was never at the top of the list. However as the list gradually grew shorter, Tech was still there. Eventually the final decision had a lot to do with being close to home.
Two of his more personally significant games were very early in his freshman year. The first game of the season was against No. 2 Notre Dame on national TV. (This was before there were multitudes of TV games every week, back when national TV was a big deal.) It was this game where Lucius said he really "felt like I belonged, like I could play on this level." Two weeks later came Pitt, featuring Tony Dorsett, and one of Sanford's best friend from high school.
Tech was 2-2 against UGA during his tenure. With the wins coming in his freshman and senior years. Lucius said "nothing else matched the intensity of those games." The game his junior year stands out as one of the most ferocious and hard-fought of his entire football career.
Lucius agreed with me that the Tech alumni never really knew how to take Coach Pepper Rodgers. However he learned much from the man Atlanta wondered about. Lucius can still remember specific instances of life lessons that he still caries and passes along. He credits Rodgers' training regimen with becoming a valuable tool for his pro career.
Lucius left a long list of accomplishments and raised the standards that future Tech linebackers would be graded against. He was a four-year letterman, Tech Hall of Famer, Georgia Sports Hall of Famer, First-Team All-American in 1977, honorable Mention All-American in 1976. He finished his career as the leading tackler in Tech history (and still ranks fourth) and holds the Tech freshman record of 124 tackles before leading Tech in tackles three straight years.
Today Lucius Sanford can be found back at the Georgia Tech Athletic Association where he holds two positions: Executive Director of the Letterman's Club and Associate Director of Development Athletics.