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Jalen Saunders Q&A
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OU wide receiver talks about transfer to Norman, fast start as Sooner
Christmas came early this year for Landry Jones. And while it may have arrived in an unusually small package ó 5-foot-9, 160-pound Jalen Saunders ó Oklahomaís quarterback was no less enthusiastic when he got the news in October.
Another speedy, sure-handed receiver like Saunders was just what Jones and the OU offense needed.
No one, however, was happier than Saunders, who had been patiently waiting to hear from the NCAA concerning his eligibility status after transferring from Fresno State to OU during the offseason. While he missed the Soonersí first four games, Saunders remained hopeful his request to waive the usual one-year waiting period would be granted.
On Oct. 11, Saunders finally got the good news and the Sooners wasted little time getting him involved in the offense. Two days after moving from the scout team into the main rotation, he found himself on the receiving end of two Jones passes in OUís win over rival Texas.
Two weeks later, Saunders showed why coach Bob Stoops and his staff were so anxious to get him on the field, as he tied a school record with 15 catches against Notre Dame, finishing with a career-high 181 yards in the process.
Sooner Spectator caught up with Saunders after a recent practice and talked to the former All-WAC receiver about his OU experience so far.
Sooner Spectator: Given the fact you were working with the scout team a few weeks ago and had no idea what the immediate future held, are you surprised by how quickly the team incorporated you into the offense?
Jalen Saunders: I was maybe a little surprised to get the chance to play against Texas because it was such short notice. But I felt like I was ready. Iíve played at this level before and I wasnít starstruck or too nervous or anything like that. Once I got out there and got into the flow of the game, it all came back to me.
SS: Could you have imagined in just your third game with the Sooners that you would enjoy the type of performance you did against Notre Dame?
Saunders: It was just one of those games where the ball just kept coming my way and I did my best to make the catches and try to help us win. Every receiver dreams about a having a game like that. Unfortunately, we didnít win and thatís what matters most. Iíd be happy to see the ball going to my teammates and me catching less, as long as we are successful.
SS: What was your mindset during the weeks leading up to getting the NCAAís decision?
Saunders: I was working with the scout team every day and preparing myself just like I would if I was getting to play in games every week. I studied film and went about everything like the other receivers did. Playing at Fresno, thatís all I really knew.
SS: Did not knowing what was going to happen make you nervous or frustrated?
Saunders: I canít lie, it was a little frustrating at times. But Iíve always known patience is a virtue, and thatís what I needed to be during the whole process. Youíd like to find out as soon as possible but you canít control the situation, so you try to make the best of it. I talked to my mom, my grandmother and my father a lot, and they kept telling me to just wait and pray about it. Whatever happens will be for a reason and Iíll make the best of it.
SS: Were you confident the NCAA would eventually decide in your favor or were you totally in the dark?
Saunders: I had confidence in myself that whatever happened I would accept it and turn it into a positive. I felt I had a good chance to play this season and Iím definitely glad it worked out the way it did. Iím excited about being here and being part of this team.
SS: How exactly did you end up at OU?
Saunders: When I decided to transfer, I came on a visit here and thought it was great ó just a great school, great football program. I loved the offense they ran and how guys like Ryan Broyles and Kenny (Stills) were a big part of that. I felt like I could fit in at OU and I was really happy when they showed interested in having me come play here. All of my class credits transferred over and that was great, too.
SS: Having grown up in California and spent most of your life there, how big was the culture shock when you moved to Oklahoma and started school at OU?
Saunders: Things are quite a bit slower around here. Other than the slower pace, I havenít noticed a whole lot. Maybe Iíve just gotten used to it since the summer. I will say itís way, way colder than where I grew up. The weather is changing all the time here. This summer, it was really humid, which is something Iím not used to. But for the most part, Iím really comfortable here. It was an easy adjustment.
SS: Have you made any fast friends here who have helped make that transition any smoother?
Saunders: I knew Kenny (Stills) from back in high school and like ninth or 10th grade. But other than Chaz (Nelson) who came in on the same recruiting visit I did, I didnít know anyone else on the team. Fortunately, the players and coaches here have been really great in making me feel welcome.
SS: Has having Kenny at OU helped get you acclimated quicker as a receiver in the offense?
Saunders: When Kenny heard I was coming on a visit to OU, he gave me a call and we talked about how he liked it here and all that. I think he was excited I might be coming here, and when I got here and looked around, I really felt good about everything in Norman. Knowing someone like Kenny gave me a little more insight into the program.
SS: People look at your smallish size out there on the field and wonder how you ever get open. What are the keys to your success as college receiver?
Saunders: I have to play faster than my opponents and be more fundamentally sound. Being one of the smallest guys out there, I really have do everything a little better. Thatís my challenge. I have to run better routes, compete harder and really just be on-point with everything I do.
SS: What are your goals for the rest of the season?
Saunders: Probably my No. 1 goal is to work hard to keep getting better every single day. No steps backward. I need to stay focused and do whatever the team needs me to do to help win games, whether itís catching passes, blocking, special teams or supporting my teammates.
(Editor's Note: This story is featured in the 2012 Basketball Preview issue of Sooner Spectator. To subscribe, call toll free 1-877-841-8877)