April 22, 2020

Saunders: ‘I am back and better than ever’

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

It’s been quite some time since Jalen Saunders has stepped on a field, but according to the receiver himself, he’s back and better than ever.

Saunders, who signed a one-year deal with the Ottawa REDBLACKS on Tuesday, hasn’t played in a game since 2018. At the time, he was a member of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and in his second season in the CFL.

Things were going great for the 27-year-old north of the border. He was coming off a stellar first year in the league, where he hauled in 1,170 yards and four touchdowns. He had already caught 739 yards in just nine games and was starting to make a name for himself as one of the best before things came to a crashing halt.

» REDBLACKS sign receiver Jalen Saunders to one-year deal
» Bio: Jalen Saunders by the numbers
» Landry: Despite restrictions, Arbuckle branching out in Ottawa

Saunders is carried off the field in 2018 after suffering a season-ending knee injury (Adam Gagnon/CFL.ca)

Saunders remembers his last game vividly. The Ticats were playing against the Argos on Sept. 3 and he was running a dig route late in the first half. He jumped up to haul in a pass from Jeremiah Masoli, a routine play for the receiver, and when he came down, he knew something was really wrong.

“When I got hurt, when I felt it pop and I couldn’t get up on my own strength,” remembered Saunders on a video conference call with members of the media on Monday from his home in Atlanta. “I just knew at that time that this injury is serious.”

“I can assure you that I am back and better than ever,” continued Saunders, who had a long recovery process after having three ligaments worked on in his knee. “And I feel 1,000 per cent better than I was, honestly, before.”

Saunders signed with the XFL’s Houston Roughnecks earlier this year and found himself on the injured reserve list. Despite being on the IR, said he was fully healthy and ready to play, but it was a decision made by head coach June Jones to sit him out for the first few weeks of the season.

Then the week that he was supposed to see the field for the first time, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the league to cease operations and he never had the chance.

“I just showed up and went out and did my best and did my hardest every day when I was there in Houston,” explained Saunders. “I don’t think it’s necessarily that my knee wasn’t being ready, I think more so they were stacked at receiver there and then when I went to camp, that was my first time touching the field in over a year. So with June, I don’t know if it was confidence issues were on both ends for me and him.”

“I can assure you that I am back and better than ever.”

Jalen Saunders

Saunders has tallied 1,909 yards through the air in 25 career games (CFL.ca)

After his time in the XFL had expired, there were a number of CFL teams that were interested in his services. Toronto, Montreal, Hamilton, BC and Ottawa all reached out to Saunders to have conversations about bringing him on board. But it was the REDBLACKS that really caught his eye and where he decided to put pen to paper.

Saunders joins Brad Sinopoli and R.J. Harris – who he knows fairly well from their time spent together at the New Orleans Saints training camp – in the REDBLACKS receiving corps. He’ll be looking to rekindle the success he found in Hamilton in the nation’s capital.

“I think I’m a smart player,” said Saunders, who’s listed as five-foot-nine and 171-pounds. “I’m going to bring some attitude to the receiver group. Bring some toughness and definitely going to bring some elusiveness.

“I’m looking forward to whatever the coaches are offering for me and whatever they think I can do to help bring a championship to Ottawa.”