Grant Drakeford turned in The Citadel's first highlight play of the season on Saturday. The junior slotback took a handoff, broke through the right side of the line and pulled away from Newberry defenders for a 29-yard touchdown run.
Drakeford's burst of speed was no surprise to Citadel coach Brent Thompson.
"I really noticed him in wind sprints during preseason practice," Thompson said. "He was winning wind sprints against guys like (slotbacks) Cam Jackson and Rod Johnson. That makes an impression."
Drakeford, 5-10 and 175 pounds, first made an impression on Thompson as an option quarterback at Riverwood High School in Atlanta. Thompson, then the Bulldogs' offensive coordinator, personally recruited Drakeford for what would have been the recruiting class of 2014.
But it would take a while before The Citadel made an impression on Drakeford.
Drakeford had an early offer from Air Force, and eventually settled on hometown FBS school Georgia State, a Sun Belt member that wanted him to play slot receiver. Drakeford redshirted in 2014, but by the spring of 2015 he was ready for something different.
"I had a great time at Georgia State," said Drakeford, whose brother Henry was an all-conference tennis player at Hampton University. "But I wasn't getting done what I needed to get done, academically or as a person. I felt like coming to The Citadel would make sure I got on the right path to where I needed to be."
And, Drakeford said, the receiver position at Georgia State was deep, and he still wanted a chance to play quarterback. His parents called Thompson that spring, wondering if The Citadel still was interested.
"We didn't have a whole lot available," Thompson recalled. "But we're not going to turn down good athletes like that."
Drakeford reported to preseason camp in 2015 as a quarterback, as Dominique Allen and Jackson were battling for the starting job. Jordan Black also was a freshman that fall.
As the QB situation shook out, Allen emerged as the starter with Black as a backup, and Jackson and Drakeford moved to slotback.
That meant a double dose of culture shock for Drakeford — learning how to block, and learning how to be a knob.
"It was different," Drakeford said of going through the rigors of knob year as a college sophomore. "I knew everybody in downtown Atlanta, having grown up 15 minutes away. So it was a shock to come to The Citadel. But being older, I think it helped me to be more mature about things and to handle my business."
On the practice field, Drakeford had to learn the A-back's blocking assignments, something he'd never had to worry about as a quarterback.
"A-back is probably the hardest position on offense to learn for a freshman," Thompson said. "He's involved in the pass game, the run game and has to block. That's the only thing that kept him back, and he really got over that hurdle in the spring.
"He came back to fall camp in the best shape of all the A-backs."
Drakeford gained 65 yards on nine attempts in the 31-14 win over Newberry, one of three slotbacks to get carries against the Wolves. His 29-yard TD was the second of his career; he scored a TD against North Carolina last season.
With his transfer credits from Georgia State, Drakeford says he'll soon be reclassified as a senior, due to graduate with a degree in business next May. But he's already planning to return for a fifth season in 2018.
"I feel like I've made great strides since I've been here," Drakeford said. "My grades have really improved; I made a 4.0 over the summer. Anybody my age probably needs the discipline of The Citadel; that's why people come here. But I did need it, and I feel like I've gotten that."
• A limited number of tickets for The Citadel's football game at Clemson on Nov. 18 are now on sale to the general public through The Citadel Athletic Ticket Office. Clemson has sold all of its single-game tickets for the Nov. 18th game, making The Citadel’s ticket allotment the only remaining single-game tickets available for purchase.
Tickets are available for purchase through The Citadel Ticket Office for $40, and seating is best available at the time of purchase. Tickets can be purchased by calling 843-953-DOGS (3647), or can be purchased in person at the McAlister Field House ticket office, Monday-Friday, 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
• The Citadel Athletic Hall of Fame Banquet set for Friday night has been postponed due to Hurricane Irma. Rescheduling plans will be announced.