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Minor Adjustments Turned Antonio Gandy-Golden Into One Of the Best Receivers Hugh Freeze Has Ever Worked With

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North wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden of Liberty (11) during the second half of the Senior Bowl college football game Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, in Mobile, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

The Redskins will have a new weapon at wide receiver whenever they return to the practice field, and his name is Antonio Gandy-Golden.

As part of a receiver class that had an NFL record 37 players taken in the 2020 Draft, Gandy-Golden stood near the top in terms of production in his senior year. He ranked third nationally in receiving yards (1,396) and ninth in yards per catch (17.7) among players with at least 60 receptions.

He can thank head coach Hugh Freeze and receivers coach Maurice Harris for that. With the proper adjustments, Gandy-Golden went from a solid receiver to one of the best Freeze has ever coached in a long list of NFL-caliber players.

"I would say [Gandy-Golden] ranks [in the top] 3, 4 or 5 in my eyes," Freeze said in November.

It wasn't difficult to see that Gandy-Golden was an above-average player. He used his 6-foot-4, 223-pound frame to haul in 161 passes for 2,418 yards and 23 touchdowns in his first three seasons -- two of which ended in at least 1,000 yards.

But Gandy-Golden, who was just starting to see a professional career as a possibility after the conclusion of his junior season, still wanted to refine his skillset. That's when Freeze, who worked with NFL receivers A.J. Brown and D.K Metcalf at Ole Miss, became Liberty's head coach, and tweaking the minute details of a player's abilities happens to be a pillar of Freeze's coaching strategy.

"He's big into...making those things right," Gandy-Golden said on "The Rundown" podcast. "And once you fix those, it's kind of like a snowball effect."

Gandy-Golden said he had more drops than he wanted to in 2018, which stemmed from a lack of focus. NFL scouts were also critical of his ability to get open in press coverage, according to Freeze.

So, he and Harris had Gandy-Golden work on the JUGS machine, making sure that he kept his focus on the ball as he was making the catch. Harris also taught him different techniques to use at the line of scrimmage so he could get a better release on cornerbacks.

"That's probably the area that he improved the most," Harris said on WGR 550 in March. "When we got down in the red zone, and we threw a fade to him, we felt really good that he was going to bring it down. I would say he probably had an 80% success rate down there...and some of those catches were incredible catches."

Both Freeze and Harris admit Gandy-Golden can still improve in that area, but his drive to improve impressed Freeze.

"AGG has tremendous talent," he said. "He's just been hungry to be teachable."

In fact, Freeze feels his talent is so tremendous that he said Gandy-Golden is a combination of Brown and Metcalf.

"He has the D.K. size," he said. "Speed-wise, he's not quite what D.K. is, but he's got the ball skills and the physicality."

Gandy-Golden said he could feel himself improving with each game, and that was evident in his stats. He had at least 100 receiving yards in seven of 13 games and finished with more than 140 yards in five of them.

"Honestly, it was just a tremendous jump from the year before as the things I knew and how comfortable I felt on the field," Gandy-Golden said.

Aside from minor tinkering to his on-field performance, Freeze and Harris also showed Gandy-Golden how top receiver prospects prepare for professional careers. Harris said the model for an NFL receiver hadn't been shown to Gandy-Golden in previous years, so they taught him things that Brown and Metcalf did when they were set to enter the draft.

Harris said Brown and Metcalf, both of whom were drafted in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, would find ways of getting in extra individual work regardless of the circumstances. He remembers one particular moment when the lights went out in the Rebels' indoor facility, and Brown and Metcalf moved a JUGS machine into a hallway so they could continue to work.

"It's that type of mentality that you have to have to be the best that you can possibly be," Harris said.

Freeze and Harris would constantly point out different things that Gandy-Golden could be doing on and off the field to improve. Gandy-Golden knew they weren't doing it in a demeaning way; they just wanted to help him.

"I really feel like them just coming in and bringing their football IQ and their high intensity on field really made me the guy I was this year," Gandy-Golden told local reporters via a videoconference on April 29.

Gandy-Golden finished his senior year breaking the school record for most receiving yards in a single season, and he was one of 12 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the nation's best wide receiver. LSU's Ja'Marr Chase eventually won the award, but in Freeze's opinion, Gandy-Golden's production earned him consideration.

Now, armed with the skills Freeze and Harris instilled upon him, Gandy-Golden is going to suit up for the Redskins in 2020. He's an NFL player, Freeze said, and he thinks there will be plenty of success in his future.

"I think he has a chance to have a long career doing this."

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