Not many people would be able to walk a mile in Jalen Saunders‘s shoes. The mental fortitude to keep climbing the mountain after a multitude of obstacles is not a part of a normal person’s DNA.
Saunders got his start at the University of Oklahoma, where he started 30 of the 48 games played, racking up 3,085 receiving yards on 203 receptions scoring 26 touchdowns.
In 2014 he began his professional career after being drafted by New York Jets in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft, but he didn’t have the start to his career that he hoped to. A couple of months later he was released by the Jets and began to bounce around the league being a part of the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints, New England Patriots, and the Chicago Bears.
He appeared in 15 games on special teams returning kicks and punts. Saunders has 15 punt returns for 125 return yards and three kick returns for 139 yards before turning to the CFL in 2017.
Soon after, he suffered a devastating knee injury during an All-star season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2018. Then the XFL was canceled due to the pandemic, robbing him of a return to the field before a shot with the Ottawa RedBlacks disappeared when the Canadian Football League shut its’ doors in 2020.
To top all that off, last May, just before he was to report to training camp with the RedBlacks, he was in a serious car accident while driving his cousin to the airport in Atlanta, as his vehicle crashed into a drunk driver who was asleep in a passing lane and was subsequently rear-ended by another. Saunders said he was ready to roll by November of last year, but with the RedBlacks out of the playoff picture, he opted to continue his recuperation.
“It’s been quite a long road just to get back,” said Saunders in a interview from his California home. “But I’ve been fighting just to get back to this exact position, praying, and just doing the right and positive things, just taking each step to get back to this position. It’s a blessing in disguise, to say the least, considering I almost had a fatal car crash last year around this time. It’s definitely excellent.”
Sauders has been planning his return back to the CFL for quite some time now. This past winter he was contacted by Blue Bombers’ Senior Director of Player and Public Relations Darren Cameron about a possible return. This phone call, followed by another phone call from Zach Collaros – his quarterback in ’17 in Hamilton led to Sauders dressing in blue and white.
“I had paid attention to Zach; I basically paid attention to everyone playing ball,” said Saunders. “But Zach hollered earlier this year. I first reached out to him, and I was like, ‘What do you got going on up there in Winnipeg?’ He was just like, ‘Yo, come sign up here. I’d love to play with you again.’ So, then I kind of just reached out to Darren, he did his part, and this is the final result.”
Saunders believes that he still has something left to give to the game. When asked at Monday’s media session about how close he is to the ‘old Jalen’ with his speed and agility. without hesitation he replied.
“It’s never left. It’s still here,” he said. “I’m ready to go. Trust that.”
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