Everyone knew that Oronde Gadsden, at 6-2, 215 pounds, was a tall and talented wide receiver when he starred in the CIAA for Winston-Salem State from 1992 to 1994. His penchant for making clutch catches particularly in jump ball situations in the corner of end zones was legendary. He was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2006.
What most didn’t know was that after going undrafted in 1995, he would go on in 1998 to craft an outstanding six-year pro career catching passes from Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino and others with the Miami Dolphins.
The same profile is not projected for Gadsden’s son, Oronde Gadsden II, a hybrid tight end/wide receiver entering just his third season playing for Syracuse University in the ACC.
The younger Gadsden, one of the showcase players at Tuesday’s 2023 ACC Kickoff in Charlotte, is already projected as one of the nation’s best and a surefire NFL prospect.
Oronde Gadsden II in 2022
As a 185-pound freshman wide receiver in 2021, injuries limited Gadsden II to just two receptions over eight games. As a redshirt freshman in 2022, he put on some pounds, was switched to tight end and exploded.
He hauled in 61 catches for 969 yards and six touchdowns, shattering Syracuse’s single-season receptions and receiving yards records by a tight end. He posted four 100-yard games and led all tight ends nationally in receiving yardage. He was elected first-team all ACC, made the AP first team all-ACC and was on the Biletnikoff Award Watch List.
“I expected to have that kind of season,” the young Gadsden said of his 2022 campaign. “I think everyone should expect to a have good season, a better season than they’ve ever had before. And I expect to have a good season in this upcoming season too.”
Experts agree. Gadsden is projected as a third team preseason all-American in Phil Steele’s 2023 College Football Preview. He was a first team all-ACC selection in Athlon Sports’ preseason magazine. USA Today has him first in its ranking of tight ends in the ACC and second overall among tight ends in the nation.
Oronde Gadsden II at the 2023 ACC Kickoff
The younger Gadsden was one of three players that accompanied eighth-year Syracuse head coach Dino Babers to Tuesday’s opening day of the ACC Kickoff in Charlotte. The Orange were the first team featured in interviews before the throngs of media present.
“I’d imagine that I may not have ever brought a sophomore to this event,” Babers said of bringing the young Gadsden to the Kickoff. “Oronde’s different. He’s older than his years. He was well-tutored before he got to us. His dad played for the Dolphins. And, he’s very mature about his work.
“I think about young men that came in the program who were older than their years, extremely focused, locked-in academically and know exactly what they want.”
Babers said when he thinks about Gadsden he thinks about other former Orange players like (second round NFL pick) tight end Matthew Bergeron of the Atlanta Falcons and Zaire Franklin, a linebacker and captain of the Indianpolis Colts for the past three years.
Gadsden: A mature, hybrid-type player
“It gives me some boost of confidence,” Gadsden said of Babers’ comments. “I don’t think he means ‘older than his years’ just my age, but how I know how to play the game within the rules and knowing how try to be a leader. I’m usually a leader-by-example kind of guy.”
As to his position going forward, he says he’s still a work in progress.
“I consider myself a hybrid type of player,” Gadsden said. “I don’t really have a position right now. The biggest thing that’s grown is probably my weight. Coming in at 185-190 (pounds), I’m now probably (6-5) 225, 230. I think I’ve just gotten better at running routes, catching the ball. I’m still working on blocking.”
One-on-one with Oronde II about the original Oronde
“I’d say probably ninety percent (of what I learned) came from him,” Gadsden said from the podium about how his father schooled him on playing the wide receiver position. “The other ten percent came from any other coaches – what I mean is any other coaches he’s played with or played against, or all NFL guys that were teaching me the game.”
The young Gadsden could do a lot worse than emulating what his dad accomplished though he might not have to traverse the same circuitous route.
The original Oronde at WSSU
Gadsden was an outstanding football and basketball player at Burke High School in his native Charleston, S. C. He accepted a scholarship and played his freshman year (1991) at WSSU on the basketball team. He switched to football as a sophomore and blossomed.
In his first year on the gridiron he had 31 receptions for 810 yards, averaging a healthy 26.1 yards per reception and scored 13 touchdowns. In his junior season, he matched the 31 receptions but for 836 yards and 14 TDs.
In his final year with the Rams, he led the CIAA with 56 catches for 1,111 yards and 16 scores. His career stats were 118 receptions for 2,757 yards and 42 TDs.
“We don’t usually talk about it that much, because if I went a school like that we probably would talk about it more,” Gadsden said about his father’s HBCU experience at WSSU. “We talk about it some – how fun it is, how good it is, the culture, everything like that, but not as much as we could if I was at a school like that.”
Oronde Gasden as a pro
Despite those gaudy numbers he was bypassed by the NFL suits in the 1995 Draft. The small-school stigma and lack of blazing speed hurt him.
He was signed as an undrafted free agent by Dallas, waived before the season started and signed to the team’s practice squad. He was promoted to the team’s active roster just in time for the Cowboys’ NFC Championship Game appearance but suffered a severe ankle sprain that landed him on injured reserve.
The Cowboys ultimately won Super Bowl XXX earning Gadsden a Super Bowl ring. He fractured an orbital bone below his right eye and was waived before the start of the 1996 regular season. Gadsen credits Cowboys’ legend Michael Irvin with teaching how to play the position.
He was signed and cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1997 and then signed to the Frankfurt Galaxy of the World League of American Football. An injury to his shoulder ended that season. Perhaps it was his stint in the Arena Football League in 1998 with the Portland Forest Dragons that opened the eyes of NFL brass.
He hauled in 93 passes for 1,335 yards and 37 touchdowns in 14 AFL games.
Gadsden in Miami
The Dolphins signed Gadsden as a 27-year old rookie looking to find a complement to star wideout O. J. McDuffie. His first NFL reception was a 44-yard touchdown reception on opening day vs. the Colts. He ended up starting 12 games in 1998 and finished with 48 receptions for 713 yards and seven receiving touchdowns.
In 1999, he had 48 receptions for a career-high 803 yards and six TDs. The 2000 season saw Gadsden post a career-high 56 receptions for 786 yards and a team-leading six TD receptions. He had another 51 receptions in 2001 for 674 yards and three scores.
In 2002, injuries limited him to just 20 receptions and no TDs. He was waived/ injured in 2003. He started all but six of the 74 games he played in a Dolphins’ uniform. He finished his career ranking in the top five in the franchise’s history for total receptions, yards and touchdowns in his first three seasons. He had the distinction of catching Marino’s last touchdown pass.
Oronde II was born in his father’s last year with the Dolphins.
The future for Oronde II
The younger Gadsden switched his major at Syracuse from Economics with a minor in Finance to Broadcasting, Digital Journalism, Information Management and Technologies. He has been interning with the Pinnacle Investment firm for the past three summers from 11 (a.m.) to 5 (p.m) on weekdays.
As for his future plans, he’s got options.
“I can get into that field when I’m through with football,” Gadsden said.
That may take a while.