Someone who solves a Rubik's Cube in less than a minute, who bowls a 300 game, who taught himself how to juggle and who became a fourth-round 2020 NFL draft pick should never surprise anyone. And yet, that's what Washington Redskins receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden routinely does. At least to those who don't know him.
Ask anyone about his interesting feats and it always leads to one more.
There's this from Liberty receivers coach Maurice Harris: "Our guys play this game where they try to [throw the ball and] hit the crossbar. He would do it from his knees 50 yards out, which is incredible. He would do it standing up from 60 yards out. But from 20 yards out he would turn his back to the crossbar and throw it over his shoulder. That was crazy."
And this from Gandy-Golden's best friend and former teammate Mitchell Lewis: "He finds new interests and picks them up. One of the people he trains with in South Florida has a Portuguese background, so he learned Portuguese. I don't know why, but that’s neat."
The Redskins drafted Gandy-Golden for what he can do on the football field, where the traits he displays in his varied interests intersect. He is a 6-foot-4, 220-pound receiver who routinely made highlight-reel catches for Liberty.
Perhaps individually, none of his off-field activities qualify as "wow" achievements. Collectively, they're impressive.
"It's just Antonio doing Antonio things," Lewis said. "For us, it became so normal. Now everyone else is like us when he first started doing those things."
In a roundabout way, it's helped him on the field, too.
"It keeps my brain active," Gandy-Golden said. "Gymnastics allows me to contort my body and explode on the field. The puzzles and Rubik's Cube allows me to use my brain and analyze different situations and to really think about it. Juggling, being able to locate things in the air. It feels like a little bit of everything."
The sport was in his blood. His mother, Monét Gandy, took gymnastics growing up until she was about 16. So when Antonio was 2, she had him working on a forward roll and a cartwheel. By the time he was 4 or 5, he was doing backflips.
"I didn't go outside too much in Chicago," Gandy-Golden said. "It was just the front yard and the backyard, doing flips and climbing trees were the two most fun things to do. I grew up and liked it, I liked doing different things. It became harder once I started growing."
In first grade, he was doing backflips off more than the ground, too.
"I jumped off monkey bars, trees, the porch, off of cars," he said.
He and a cousin would attend practices with a tumbling team in Chicago. They were doing all sort of flips and doing round-off twists. After leaving Chicago for Dallas, Georgia, at 8 years old, that type of gymnastics training ended but the flips did not. He would do various flips and twists -- and combinations thereof -- on the field at Liberty, before or after practice.
"There were times in practice he would trip over someone or someone would rough him up, and instead of falling he'd spin out of it and keep his balance," Lewis said. "Freshman year against Coastal Carolina, he caught a pass in the end zone and he rolled on his back and did something like Bruce Lee would: He pushed himself off the ground and jumped while on his back. That was incredible."
Once more it started at age 2 when his mom gave him a seven-piece puzzle of animals. Then, she said, the puzzles "became bigger and bigger and he put them together faster and faster."
When he was 4 or 5, she said, he was helping complete puzzles with as many as 300 pieces.
"He was the kind of kid who was like, I see it, I've got to get it and I'm going to sit here until it's completed," Monét said. "Eventually he was doing it on his own. Then he moved away from puzzles and into stimulating mind games."
Gandy-Golden received a Rubik's Cube in ninth grade and, within a week, he said he could solve it without the manual.
"I did it every day to the point where I was getting it faster and faster and faster," he said. "I practiced on the algorithms and tried to do it without looking at it. Finally, I got it and then I kept doing it consistently without looking at it."
Then he figured out shortcuts. A few months after first getting a Rubik's Cube, he solved it in less than a minute. Now his fastest time is 44 seconds. He's been stuck on that time for a year.
"It's about how fast you move your hands and analyze the pieces and figure out where they're supposed to go," he said. "I do it every day whenever I have free time. I don't play video games, so if I'm not training, I don't have anything to do. I want to get it to at least 30 seconds. There are people here solving it in 10, 15 seconds easy. That would be the goal of course, but you've got to really practice for that and football is kind of important now."
Lewis, his roommate as a freshman at Liberty, said, "We were both doing that our freshman year. We would carry it everywhere. I figured how to do it once, memorized it and was like, 'I don't need this anymore.'"
But Gandy-Golden felt the opposite.
"Anything that challenges his mind, he's dominant at it," Monét said. "It's pretty awesome to watch. I loved seeing when he did the cube for the first time. I'd never been able to solve it and I know there are people that do it. It was pretty awesome."
The 300 game
Gandy-Golden excited to play alongside Haskins
Antonio Gandy-Golden expresses his excitement about playing with Dwayne Haskins and compliments CeeDee Lamb on his skill level.
Several years ago, Monét took her family bowling after Thanksgiving dinner. She was a good bowler, having taken up the game as a kid. On that Thanksgiving outing, she beat everyone with a score of 175.
She remembers what her son told her: "You're not going to beat me in bowling again."
Monét said a month later they went bowling again -- "and he demolished me."
Gandy-Golden said he became serious about bowling in February 2018. He studied the details. He'd watch YouTube videos, focusing on where the professional bowlers wanted to place the ball.
"That's what I figured I had to do," he said, "I'd go every day and practice until I finally got it down."
Two months after he became serious about bowling -- with a high game of 278 but a typical game around 200 -- Antonio reached perfection at an alley on Liberty's campus. On the last roll: a pin in the right corner stood upright, until another slid into it and barely knocked it over. Gandy-Golden sprinted around the alley, hands to his head in disbelief.
"A lot of drama," he said. "It was nerve-wracking."
As a kid, Gandy-Golden started juggling tennis balls. An uncle taught him. Again, for Gandy-Golden, it was about perseverance.
"It was frustrating because I couldn't get it immediately," he said. "I worked and worked to get it and finally got it. I couldn't stop doing it for a long time."
He'd juggle tennis balls or baseballs and basketballs -- sometimes in combination. Anything round. Or square. He juggled the Rubik's Cube; no, he has not tried to solve it while doing so. Yet.
Yes, that helps on the football field.
"It opens the quarterback's eyes a little more," Gandy-Golden said. "They feel they can put it anywhere and I can come down with it."
Google "Gandy-Golden highlight catches" and there will be plenty of examples. Ironically, he had an issue with drops in 2018 -- perhaps a function of playing with a broken right hand suffered in an August car crash. But thanks in part to that injury, he worked on catching the ball one-handed. When Harris joined Hugh Freeze's staff at Liberty last year, their work with the Jugs machine increased, using it before and after practice or during special-teams portions.
"In practice he came up with this: For every dropped pass they had to do five push-ups and for every incredible catch they would take five push-ups off," Harris said. "He created a standard making one-handed catches. That wasn't incredible for him. It may have been for someone else. Now, if someone was draped over him and he's making a one-handed catch, we counted that. But a standard one-handed catch, we didn't count that for him, because he raised his standard up."
Antonio Gandy-Golden's 2020 NFL draft profile
Take a look at former Liberty WR Antonio Gandy-Golden in these highlights as he dips and dodges his way to goal lines and into the NFL draft.
There's also the painting; a number of men -- two uncles, a younger cousin, his two brothers and his late great-grandfather -- in Gandy-Golden's family are artists, so he naturally started to draw and paint. He took art classes at Liberty.
Harris heard him playing the guitar one day and assumed he had been playing a couple years. It was two weeks. He wants to learn to golf, though as a left-hander he has struggled to find clubs. One day, Gandy-Golden wants to own horses. At Paulding High School in Georgia there was a farm, and because he took an agriculture class, he helped raise chickens and sheep.
"I can promise you at some point he will have a farm," Monét said.
But first things first. The Redskins drafted him for his football potential. He improved for Liberty last season in the details of the game, Harris said, like winning at the line. Or learning how to attack cornerbacks better and maintain leverage.
"When he starts something, he can accelerate the process," Harris said, "because of the time he [puts] into mastering whatever he's doing. That goes to the field as well. When he sees an obstacle he'll try to master that skill set. ... He wants to learn the whole schematic play as opposed to just his piece of the puzzle."