Jalen Saunders a key player to Oklahoma success last year
Editor’s Note: This is part three of a five-part series about five Oklahoma athletes from this past athletic year who made big impacts on each player’s respective sport. The release order is not the set ranking of each athlete’s impact.
Kingsley Burns, The Oklahoma Daily
This past football season, Oklahoma fans were privileged to witness the emergence of several new faces that had a profound impact on the field.
These new faces proved to be valuable weapons, adding an extra element to an already lethal offense.
However, the impact wide receiver Jalen Saunders, who transfered from Fresno State, added to the offense would be recognized immediately.
Before transferring to OU, the former Fresno State star was a First Team All-Western Athletic Conference selection and was added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list following an exceptional sophomore campaign, where he recorded 50 receptions for 1,065 yards and 12 touchdowns. The standout season in 2011 made him the ninth receiver in Fresno State history to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark in a season.
Despite sitting out the first four games because of NCAA transfer regulations, Saunders proved to be a valuable weapon for quarterback Landry Jones. The transfer played in nine games making eight starts.
Saunders led the team in receptions per game (6.89) and finished the season third in overall receptions and receiving yards, hauling in 62 passes for 829 yards with three touchdowns.
The 5-foot-9 receiver proved to be a reliable target for Jones, hauling in six or more passes in five games, including 10 receptions for 162 yards against Oklahoma State and tying a school record with 15 catches for 181 yards and setting a school record with eight catches in the first quarter against Notre Dame.
Saunders also proved to be a threat on special teams. He was named the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week after his electrifying performance against Oklahoma State, a game where he returned three punts for 89 yards, including a game-changing 81 yard return for a touchdown.
The addition of Saunders improved the Sooners' offense by giving Jones another option in that spread attack. Prior to Saunders' arrival in the offense, Jones failed to pass for more than 300 yards in the first four games.
In the last nine games with Saunders implanted in the offense, Jones failed to reach that mark only once.
Saunders' combination of size, speed and agility makes him a valuable slot receiver in OU’s spread offense. His ability to find open creases in the middle of the field and make plays after the catch make him a nightmare for opposing defenses.
With the loss of offensive standouts Kenny Stills and Brown, Saunders will be one of the primary options for the Sooners this fall, and I know he won’t disappoint.
Demetrius Kearney is a political science senior.