2022 is a long way off, but that doesn’t mean Longhorn staffers on both sides of IH-35 haven’t kicked the tires on a few freshmen.
One of those freshmen who has seen Austin through the lens of UT athletics is Kaden Saunders. Saunders attends Westerville South just outside of Columbus, Ohio.
Things are very early in the process for the 5-foot-11, 154 pounder. However, his speed and two-sport potential make him an intriguing prospect.
Why did Saunders trip to Texas? Baseball and a family connection.
Saunders’ younger sister was on a team that included the daughter of Texas running backs coach Stan Drayton, so Saunders and Drayton were often around each other and developed a close relationship. Drayton would invite Saunders to Ohio State games when he was coaching in Columbus, and invited him to see Texas in January.
“I’ve known him my whole life, and since I was going down there for baseball, he invited me to their junior day too so I could see the football facility and stuff,” Saunders said.
While Saunders didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Drayton during Elite Day because of other older targets present, Saunders still said he enjoyed his visit.
Saunders played on varsity as a freshman at Westerville South and tallied 27 rushes for 7.5 yards per carry, 12 catches for 19.1 yards per reception, and seven punt returns for 23 yards per return.
He put up those numbers playing slot and outside receiver for his high school team, but he told Inside Texas his coaches are considering playing him at defensive back in his second season.
He’s currently in his first varsity baseball season for Westerville South, but posted some impressive athletic numbers prior to hardball season starting in Ohio.
Saunders recently scored a 98.16 SPARQ at the Orlando Opening combine, the only freshman to make the top 10. He told Inside Texas he ran two forty times in the low-4.4s at the Best of the Midwest combine. He also reached the prelims of the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches 60 meter indoor championship, the only freshman to reach that point.
In addition to the empirical data, his highlight tape confirms his top end speed.
However, the original purpose of Saunders’ trip to Austin was to camp with the baseball program at Disch-Falk Field.
“It was nice,” Saunders said. “One of their coaches, he’s an assistant, he knew by the way I moved I played another sport. I told him I played football and it was a dream of mine to play both in college.”
That assistant was Phil Haig, who played football and baseball in the 2000s at Illinois. He gave Saunders early hope in his ability to play both.
“He said it’s a possibility and to keep chasing my dream,” Saunders said.
Living in Ohio, Saunders has a lot of Big 10 and northeastern schools involved in his recruitment for both sports. Michigan State is the only school that has offered him a football scholarship, while Penn State and Notre Dame have expressed interest. He’s set to be in Happy Valley this weekend, and recently saw Cincinnati.
Some of the baseball programs involved include those same schools in addition to Tennessee and Ohio State.
College baseball recruiting classes develop and finalize much earlier than football classes. As a result, Saunders has received some pressure from one of his baseball suitors to commit to their program. However, the football side at that school still needs to get on board.
With his connection to UT, his speed at his age, and his two-sport ability, Saunders wants to continue to get to know if Texas is a place he can fulfill his dream.
“I would love to if I got the chance,” Saunders said of a return visit. “I love it down there.”