Sandifer overcomes obstacles on the road to success
In the spring of 2011, San Diego State wide receiver Dominique Sandifer was preparing for a big season. It was his time.
He had played two seasons behind NFL-bound receivers Vincent Brown and DeMarco Sampson, and was ready for his chance to take over as the go-to pass-catcher for the Aztecs. 2012 was supposed to be his breakout year.
Sandifer and his teammates were working hard in the offseason, running routes and catching balls from the quarterbacks one day during a week off.
That day, however, one wrong step would put a halt to Sandifer’s plans, and change his road to success in the blink of an eye.
“We were running routes and I ran simple “go” route, and my knee got stuck in the ground,” Sandifer said. “I was hoping it wasn’t that bad at first, but then they told me my (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) was torn.”
For the average athlete, a severe injury like a torn ACL can be tough to overcome, both mentally and physically.
Luckily for the Aztecs, Sandifer is far from average.
Born in Joliet, Ill., Sandifer moved to California at a young age with his mother and sisters. Although his father wasn’t always around, his mother and grandmother did their best to keep him out of trouble.
Sandifer’s mother lived in Long Beach, Calif., while his grandmother lived in nearby Gardena. He spent time at both houses, but eventually moved in with his grandmother when she was able to get Sandifer and his sister into the Beverly Hills Unified School District through her job with the city.
Sandifer started going to school in Beverly Hills in fourth grade, and also began playing football in Gardena. Because of the congested traffic and his grandmother’s work schedule, he endured long, tiring days at a young age.
“I would wake up at 6 a.m. to go to school, rush home, go to practice, and get back home around 9 p.m. and that was about it,” Sandifer said. “I didn’t have time to go out in the neighborhood or anything. My mom really wanted me to play sports to keep away from gangs and other trouble.”
At Beverly Hills High School, Sandifer impressed the football coaches from start, making the varsity football team as a freshman. He played varsity all four years and caught the eyes of college coaches for his impressive play both at wide receiver and cornerback. Sandifer was an all-CIF selection on offense and defense, and although some colleges were recruiting him as a corner, he wanted to continue playing receiver.
San Diego State was a school that saw Sandifer’s potential at receiver, and offered him a scholarship. After taking an official visit, he and his mother agreed that it was the right school, and he made what he calls “the best decision of his life.”
After redshirting in 2008, Sandifer was a key contributor in the third receiver role for the next two seasons. He played in 23 games in 2009 and 2010, notching 49 catches for 561 yards and 2 touchdowns. Although it was frustrating at times playing behind Brown and Sampson, Sandifer learned a lot from the experience.
“It was hard at first, coming in with an idea of how you want to play, but I learned you have to wait your turn and work from the bottom up,” he said. “I ended up learning a lot from them; they were great leaders and it reflected a lot on who I am now.”
Then came the injury.
“It was tough to overcome because I felt like I had paid my dues,” Sandifer said. “I felt it was my turn to step up and prove to everybody that I could be the guy.
It was an extremely hard time in Sandifer’s life, but equally important.
“I feel like everything happens for a reason, and I felt like I got to tutor the young guys and give them the knowledge that I learned from Vincent and DeMarco,” he said. “Now we are deeper at receiver than we’ve ever been. You have to take a positive from everything. If it would help the team, I’d do it all again.”
Cornerback Josh Wade, Sandifer’s good friend and roommate, saw the growth in Sandifer throughout the recovery process. Wade was in a similar situation, as he missed the entire 2011 season due to a torn Achilles tendon.
“It was definitely a maturing process for him,” Wade said. “We both grew up a lot from sitting out and watching the game from a different perspective. It helped that we were going through it together.”
With the 2012 season approaching, Sandifer is back and ready to help the Aztecs any way he can in his final season. A week before the season started, Sandifer was voted as one of three team captains by his teammates, an accomplishment that he will cherish forever.
“That was special,” Sandifer said. “I was a captain in high school, but at the college level it’s really special. It showed me that my teammates respect me and trust me enough to be the captain. It was a humbling experience and I appreciated it a lot.”
In a perfect world, Sandifer hopes to have a successful senior year and get a chance to make an NFL roster next year, but he has made certain to focus on his academics to prepare for life after football. He graduated in the spring with a degree in child in family development, and is now pursuing a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling.
If football doesn’t work out, Sandifer hopes to work with athletes with disabilities and athletes seeking direction once their playing career is over.
“I want to reach out and help kids,” Sandifer said. “I feel like you shouldn’t be able to tell a kid who was born without a leg that you can’t run. I also want to help athletes who finish sports. I want to help those guys get jobs and stay away from drugs and financial issues.
“A lot of those guys don’t know what to do after sports, they have no direction. Sports is just a short part of your life, and hopefully I can reach out to those people and help them understand that.”
Although he took a small detour, Sandifer is still on track on the road of success. Luckily for others, he is more than willing to share the directions.