Star football Mountie Donovan Saunders, shown above in the foreground helping a teammate bring down a Laval player during the Uteck Bowl game in Sackville last fall.
Mountie football fans are seldom surprised, and many have actually come to expect to see number 1 step in front of an opposing receiver, snatch the ball from his outstretched arms and, with dreadlocks flowing from under his helmet, set sail for paydirt.
Yes, Donovan Saunders has won the hearts of fans everywhere for his dazzling defensive work at the corner and has been acclaimed as the top player at the skill position by opposing players and coaches alike. In 2012, he was named All-Conference in two positions – special teams as well as defense – and this past season earned the all-star recognition at corner. Following an injury, the returner's job went to Michael Bohan who did the job so brilliantly there was no need for Saunders to come hobbling back although he did show some fancy footwork in kickoff returns against Laval in the Uteck Bowl.
Each game sees the quick-footed Brampton native matched up against the best the others have to offer. He took on and outplayed the much taller Devon Bailey of St. F.X. and played to a standoff with top CFL recruit Tyler Renaud of Acadia Axemen.
During the run to second place in the conference, Saunders recorded interceptions in three consecutive wins, and, ultimately, opposing coaches opted to try over the middle passes rather than chance another interception by throwing to the sidelines. This became more and more the case when the Mounties introduced Devante Sampson at the other corner as he immediately made an impact.
The 21-year-old 6" 180-pounder with a 4.6 speed, played five seasons with Delta Secondary High School in Hamilton and also was involved in summer leagues in the city so brought a solid background in the game when he arrived at Mount Allison to begin the 2011 campaign.
His first contact with the Mounties came following the top 100 camp in Ontario. He says he was walking off the field when he was approached by Mountie coach Gaetan Richard, who told him both corners, Brad Daye and Jerome Oram, were graduating and there was an opportunity to see plenty of field time in Sackville.
Then he met coach Scott Brady, who immediately began the task of turning him into a corner from his normal safety position. Brady worked with Saunders on the transition after he had come for a visit.
"I guess," he says, "it was an opportunity to help create a new culture here and to establish a strong program that attracted me, but I was totally sold when I discovered the type of family atmosphere that is the trademark of this group.”
You cannot say Saunders lacks confidence when he says he loves taking on the best the opposition has to offer and will never be outshone. But he has proven that beyond the shadow of a doubt and promises to improve along with the rest of the team as they have raised their sights for the years ahead.
Meanwhile, he eventually aims to become a school teacher and double as a coach. But if an opportunity comes to try his hand in the CFL, he would give it consideration but knows what he wants in the long term. Currently enrolled in sociology and religious studies he is aiming for a BA by the time his CIS eligibility ends in 2016.
Saunders lives by the advice he has received from home: "Never forget where you are from regardless of how successful you might be."
He says since he is the first member of his family to pursue a secondary education his mom is especially proud of him.
"My mom and grandma came out here for our Homecoming games," he said, "and really enjoyed their reception and the attention they received."
Donovan Saunders, native of a big city, says Sackville offers a much slower pace of life. While he enjoys trips back to Ontario he also loves this community and the friendliness it offers, especially the outpouring of support that came leading up to and during the Uteck Bowl.
He points out that his recruiting class was an outstanding one with several talented athletes like Jacob LeBlanc, Matt Montgomery and Kwame Adjei but realizes they will be moving on during the next couple of years making it mandatory for the coaches to constantly be on the lookout for replacements and to add depth to the lineup.
Pointing out that he was recruited by many major schools, including Laurier and Waterloo, Saunders believes Mount Allison offers something different, something more unique and it only remains for the recruiters to get them here and exposed to the special feeling that prevails.
"I am certainly happy I chose to come here, both for academic and athletic reasons," he says. "You can approach any of the coaches with any problem or question while the professors are great and with doors open you can walk in almost any time."
So, Donovan Saunders is not only an outstanding team player but is a positive spokesman for the entire university community as well as Sackville, his second home.