Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Rising '14 TE Saunders learning the game
By Sam Khan Jr.
Houston Kinkaid tight end Mavin Saunders has only played one season of football.
HOUSTON -- Like many of the pass-catchers that were competing with him, Houston Kinkaid tight end Mavin Saunders was simply trying to get better on Sunday when he attended the Next Level Athlete South Houston Video Showcase.
Every chance to compete and work is a positive for Saunders, who is trying to catch up to the rest of pack when it comes to football.
Unlike many of the players in attendance, Saunders hasn't spent his entire life -- or even his entire high school career -- playing football. In fact, he hasn't even played it a full year. The 2014 prospect has only one season of football under his belt.
Not one varsity season. One season, period.
Before last fall, the 6-foot-5 Saunders hadn't even participated informally, like playing street football with friends, something many young boys do as they grow up, dreaming of being the next NFL superstar.
The Bahamian native spent the balance of his athletic career on the hardwood, playing basketball.
Mavin Saunders caught 30 passes for 510 yards and eight touchdowns last season.
"My whole life has been basketball," Saunders said. "Basketball has been going pretty good but we said we'll try out football for one year. Things ended up going pretty good so we just said we'll do both or stick with football."
Saunders stepped onto the Houston Kinkaid campus when he was in ninth grade, not long after he moved to Houston from the Bahamas. He is one of the latest in a long line of Bahamian athletes that have come stateside -- and particularly to the Houston area -- through a program created by former Olympic track star and Bahamian native Frank Rutherford. Through the program, Rutherford brings athletes over to the United States to facilitate their ability to earn athletic scholarships and further their education at the college level.
When Saunders arrived in Houston, his focus was on basketball. Playing with Kinkaid as well as his summer grassroots team, the Franchize All-Stars, he has done well on the court. A three-star basketball prospect, Saunders is ranked the eighth-best player in Texas and 23rd nationally among small forwards. His skills have earned him offers from schools like Connecticut, USC and Auburn.
But before last season, Saunders took up football at the suggestion of Kinkaid head coach Stephen Hill.
"Coach just came out and told me to try it," Saunders said. "It started off pretty slow, but I just kept getting better and better during practice. He trains me as much as he can. I'm still trying to get ahead. It's a big change and I'm just trying to find different ways to get ahead and trying to catch up since I just started."
Considering his lack of experience, his first season was a fruitful one. Saunders caught 30 passes for 510 yards and eight touchdowns for Kinkaid, which went 8-3 and made the Southwest Preparatory Conference Division I large school championship game.
Mastering the fundamentals and learning the finer points of the game is something Saunders is trying to do every day.
"For a receiver, it's just route running and stuff like that," Saunders said. "You have to run differently, you have to learn how to get in and out of breaks and learn all the routes. I'm just using my athleticism right now to catch the ball. I'm learning when to turn and what the cornerbacks are looking for and stuff like that. We're working on it and it's getting better every day. Hopefully I'll be a master of it before I go."
As for his future, Saunders will make an important decision later this year. While he is working on football this offseason, he will continue to play basketball this summer, but he's leaning toward playing only football in college. Florida State and Mississippi State have already offered him in football. Maryland, Oregon, Texas A&M and Texas Tech are showing interest.
His size, combined with his athleticism, makes him an intriguing prospect who might have the ability to play both sports at the next level. But for now, it appears he'll focus on one at the next level.
"Right now I'm leaning toward football," Saunders said. "I'll probably make a decision my senior year but most likely it's going to be football."
For now, Saunders doesn't have any visits lined up since he'll be hitting the hardwood playing in basketball tournaments as well as continuing his offseason football work. But he'll certainly have college options, a reward for the sacrifice he's making now, being away from his parents and other family members in the Bahamas.
"I'm not with my family so it's really difficult," Saunders said. "This is what's better for me because I have a future here. My mother understood. We still talk and we keep praying that things continue to go well. Right now things are going, really, really well."