Sports

Sandifer ready for major transition: Yale

The good news is that the colors in Jaylan Sandifer’s new wardrobe are pretty much the same as his old wardrobe.

Sandifer has worn the blue of Northside for a long time, on the football field and basketball court.

The color remains the same, but the logo is different. And extraordinarily impressive.

There will be no suspense on National Signing Day at Northside for the Eagles’ wide receiver. He’s going to Yale.

Yep, Yale.

Last week, Sandifer sat down to talk about his future, and there he was, in a Yale T-shirt that sure resembled the Northside blue.

And it was fairly difficult for him to talk about it without smiling. A lot. Odds are he’ll continue smiling a lot until graduation in late May and when he heads north in the middle of the summer.

“Top schools in the country, and they’re all knocking on my door, asking me would I like to come to their schools,” Sandifer said. “It was a shock.”

Yale won out over some hefty competition: Army and Harvard. And, well, there’s no football at MIT, Johns Hopkins, the University of Chicago and Washington University in St. Louis, so they were out.

Sandifer’s brother Brandon is a second-year freshman at Florida, so it’s easy to assume there’s some brotherly taunting going back and forth. Brandon can say he’s a scholarship offensive lineman at an SEC program that has a national title in the past decade.

Jaylan, of course, can say he’s going to Yale. Yale. Alas, such taunting is minimal.

“He’s loving it,” Jaylan said of Brandon’s reaction to a brother going to Yale. “He’s loving the opportunity, because, like I said, before now, we never even heard of anybody going to Yale from around here that we knew of. He thinks it’s a great opportunity. He’s very excited for me. We won’t play each other, but we’ve got a team to root for other than our own.”

Jaylan Sandifer won’t be anywhere near the South next fall. The Bulldogs’ southernmost opponent is Penn, located in Philadelphia.

Yale is clearly finding its way to the Peach State. The 2016 roster had a solid Southern flavor, with 10 players from Georgia, five each from Florida and Texas, and two from Louisiana. Sandifer spent some time with defensive lineman Julian Fraser, a freshman from Valdosta, on his recruiting trip.

“He likes it up there,” Sandifer said. “We got a chance to talk. He told me about different things that goes on up there, the transition with the climate.”

Indeed, the climate. Sandifer was reintroduced to snow on his visit. The sunny, mid-60s Tuesday in Warner Robins was countered by snow and a high of 30 in New Haven, Connecticut.

Sandifer — whose final-semester class load is advanced placement calculus, anatomy and British literature — is taking is equally anxious to embark on an impressive new venture and in no hurry to leave.

“I’m trying to enjoy Northside my last few months,” Sandifer said. “I’m talking to a lot of people and (I) just enjoy my time being a high school student. I’m starting to look out a little bit, think about stuff. but I’m trying not to focus on it too much.”

Northside head coach Kevin Kinsler has no concerns that Sandifer will struggle in his new environment.

“Well, Jaylan, when he came to us in the ninth grade, he was always a little more mature than his classmates,” Kinsler said. “He was very adaptable. He had a lot of friends, he was very popular, a good leader and all that. He was also more mature.

“He’s always been a good student. He’s got great parents that really strive for the academic success first. He’s always been an excellent student.”

The Eagles will have least three others participating in Wednesday afternoon’s ceremony, hours after the actual signings take place. One is quarterback Tobias Oliver, who will also take on an academic challenge at Georgia Tech.

“We talk all the time about these last few months we’re gonna have together, and eventually we’ll keep in touch as we go to college,” said Sandifer, a starter on the 2014 GHSA Class 5A state title team with Oliver. “We talk about (how) it’s a great opportunity for both of us, and we look forward to tackling it.”

And already there’s a little smack-talk as far as the nicknames go.

“We were actually just talking ... about which would win out of a yellow jacket and a bulldog,” Sandifer said. “He seems to think that a yellow jacket can just sting the bulldog all day, but when that bulldog gets ahold of him, it’s gonna be trouble.”

Yale was founded in 1701 and is the third oldest institution of higher education in the land. One of Sandifer’s finalists, Harvard, is No. 1, founded in 1636.

Yale has 5,500 undergrads, about 2,500 more than Mercer’s main campus undergraduate enrollment, by comparison. There are 6,000 graduate students and 4,400 faculty members, and students come from 118 countries.

The endowment for 2015? A hefty $25.6 billion, with a ‘b.’ Harvard has a $36 billion endowment.

The alumni list is obviously dazzling. There are Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Gerald Ford and William Howard Taft and vice presidents Dick Cheney and John C. Calhoun.

And Secretary of State John Kerry, current Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas (a native of Pin Point, near Savannah) and Sonia Sotomayor, along with dozens of senators and governors.

Plus, there are inventors Eli Whitney and Samuel Morse, doctors Benjamin Spock and Ben Carson, physician/geneticist Francis Collins and economist Paul Krugman.

And a nice list of actors, like Paul Newman, Ben Stein, Jodie Foster and Meryl Streep, as well as playwright Thornton Wilder (Our Town) and Watergate journalist Bob Woodward

Athletics can claim pro basketball coach Jeff Van Gundy, Olympic figure skater Sarah Hughes, Amos Alonzo Stagg, Walter Camp, Calvin Hill and Ron Darling.

And Abraham Baldwin, Georgia’s president in the late 1700s and namesake of Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton is an alum.

Sandifer will attend a college that has produced nearly two dozen Nobel laureates, nearly three dozen Pulitzer Prize winners, the founders or co-founders of Fitbit, Real Networks, Pinterest, Alibaba and Time magazine.

Information like that is why he keeps smiling. That, and he’s prepared.

“Just growing up, I always had my dad and my mom telling me that it doesn’t matter exactly where I go, just as long as I go somewhere and use it to the best of my abilities,” Sandifer said. “And (it) never really was a thing about going to the biggest school. It was just use whatever I have to get me as far as I can, use what I do athletically to help me to get wherever I need to go.”

As far as football, Yale went 6-4 in 2015 and had the third-best attendance on the FCS level. The Bulldogs dropped to 3-7 last season, losing three games by 14 points or less.

Sandifer was a receiver in a run-oriented offense, catching 43 passes for 564 yards and five touchdowns in 2016 and is ready for whatever the Bulldogs need.

For now, he’ll enjoy his final basketball season and final months at Northside, and talking about the future.

“Just being throughout my community, when I tell them I’m going to Yale, everybody knows the type of caliber school (it is),” he said. “That just amazes me. When I have time to myself, I think about it. That’s a big deal.

“It’s awesome. It’s awesome to see the smile on their face. I try the best I can just to keep people happy, keep them motivated. and when I tell them that, it just brings joy to their day. It’s a great feeling.”

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