Ticats Jalen Saunders found himself and then success

The words come spilling out in a torrent, thoughts and ideas and emotions piled upon one another. He expresses the things that matter most – the challenges, the failures, the ultimate resurrection of his career with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats – with an uncommon intensity, with the perspective that comes from living with and learning from life’s mistakes.

Jalen Saunders wants to be seen but does not need to be seen, wants to be heard but does not need to be heard. And knowing that makes all the difference.

It wasn’t always so.

Saunders was selected in the fourth round of 2014 NFL Draft by the New York Jets, despite an arrest for marijuana possession in college. He suffered a seizure while driving to a training camp practice, a health scare that was later attributed to an allergic reaction. Released by the Jets after just three games, he bounced around to five other teams before a 10-game suspension for recreational drugs saw him wash out of the league for good.

He doesn’t make excuses for any of this.

“There was a lot of trials and tribulations, ups and downs. The best way to explain is that I wasn’t taking advantage of the opportunities that were presented to me. It was my humbling period,” Saunders said. “Given all the crazy stuff that’s happened, to have the opportunity to play ball again and not erase past history, but to use it as motivation… I let the people who supported me down and I let myself down.”

Out of the game for almost 18 months, he admits to spending an inordinate, even unhealthy amount of time thinking about what he’d lost. The urge to move on from the game was there, to try and put the shame of failure behind him.

“That part affected me for months: I didn’t know if I was ever going to play football again. I had to really sit and think about it,” he said. “But I didn’t want to let the hardship determine my career.”

A stint in The Spring League – the same showcase enterprise that Johnny Manziel played in – led to an opportunity with the Ticats, who had added him to their negotiation list. Released after training camp in 2017, he joined the practice roster and started for the first time in week three after an injury to receiver Terrence Toliver.

And promptly set the world on fire.

Saunders has played in 23 CFL games racking up 118 catches and 1,856 yards and has at least 50 yards in 17 of those contests. With 42 catches and 686 yards so far in 2018, he is on pace to break Tony Champion’s team record of 1,656 receiving yards in a season and Luke Tasker’s mark for catches (104.)

Yet Saunders does not attract nearly the attention that Tasker and fellow receiver Brandon Banks – who is also on pace to break the catches record – seem to garner.

“I think he’s kind of flown under the radar because of all the guys we have. They get all the hype and he gets his quiet 1,000 yards,” quarterback Jeremiah Masoli said. “The defensive backs all know him, though.”

Both Masoli and head coach June Jones talk about Saunders’ growth as both and player and a person of the last season and-and-a-half. He sees it, too.

“If you have that positive flow of energy, everything around you is going to be positive. If I walk in the locker room, f-this, f-that, that’s my entire mindset. But I come in and I’m like ‘let’s go work, let’s go win’ that goes to the next player and the next player to the whole team buying in,” Saunders said. “There is no special way I did it, no specialist, no book I read. This is all me. I know how to work out, I know how to listen, how to perfect my craft and that’s about all.”

With his entry-level contract set to expire after this season, Saunders could be in line for another NFL opportunity or a more lucrative CFL contract. But for all his willingness to address his past and his present, Saunders steadfastly refuses to discuss his future. He knows better.

“Tomorrow is not promised and if you think about life like that, you’ll seize the opportunities,” he said. “I’m happy with myself and that’s the main thing I was missing in years past, I wanted to impress everyone else.

“Now I’m on a whole different level.”

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards

Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.
Drew Edwards
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Drew Edwards
About Drew Edwards (1551 Articles)
Drew Edwards is into his eighth season covering the CFL and the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator. He is the founder and editor of 3DownNation.

17 Comments on Ticats Jalen Saunders found himself and then success

  1. Sure glad he has landed in Hamilton – he is extremely talented.

  2. Cool story. He’s a talented dude. Great hands

    • Ray Jay Johnson II // August 8, 2018 at 10:23 am //

      HE won’t be here long with The States having two new leagues
      They are willing to pay more money He’ll leave
      Unless the CFL Makes major change to it Salary Cap Format
      I expect the CFL to lose many of it Stars and up coming players

  3. Great article. Saunders has been a tremendous contributor.

  4. If he continues on this pace, he is MOP material for sure.

  5. Hopefully he stay in the CFL but there is always another guy in similar circumstances to replace Saunders. Just gotta find em and sign em.

  6. Sea of Dead // August 8, 2018 at 10:51 am //

    He’s certainly a very talented receiver. The only issue I have is his needless taunting of opposing DBs. If he has really matured, he would refrain from doing that and just let his talent speak for itself on the field. The other stuff just leads to unwanted penalties or potential injury and makes him look like a nutball to viewers.

    • Agree. He should just look at Tasker’s approach…catch the ball, be done with it…and move on to the next play. That kind of stuff eventually just invites trouble.

  7. Awesome receiver.

  8. Saunders (and others) are a testament to the excellent job Ticats have done finding and recruiting talent… GM Tillman and the rest of the staff deserve credit when credit’s due… they sure as heck have to deal with lots of unwarranted criticism…

  9. Freelasagahunter // August 8, 2018 at 5:30 pm //

    Why does Saunders get a pass for a sketchy past behaviour but Manziel has to wear it forever ?

    • Tiger man // August 9, 2018 at 8:14 am //

      Because of the fanfare and publicity that goes along with Manziel…Saunders not so much….

    • Guess it depends on one’s definition of sketchy.

      Marijuana and “recreational drug use” are hardly sketchy behaviour in Canada (despite the rough ride Roughrider Carter has had from certain CFL fans).

      Johnny Football’s history is different.

  10. Love his grit, my only advice would be about the after whistle stuff, make the play, walk away.

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