Khalen Saunders makes his way up NFL Draft board

Christopher Bean, Assistant Sports Editor

Western Illinois’ Khalen Saunders went viral early this year when NFL insider Adam Schefter posted a video of him doing a backflip. The video also caught the attention of Barstool. The 320-pound senior defensive tackle for the Leathernecks was third on the team with 72 total tacks. He also had 13 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He rightfully earned 2nd Team All-American in the FCS.

Khalen got his invite to the Reese’s Senior Bowl back on December 2nd. Just about a week before the Senior Bowl is when he received national attention. It only got better for him the week of the Senior Bowl. He was on John Gruden’s roster for the week, and was able to learn from a Super Bowl winning head coach. After one of the workouts during the week, Khalen demonstrated his athletic ability around the other seniors and NFL coaches around him. He said on Twitter, “when Coach Gruden tells you to do a backflip…. ya do a backflip.” Saunders was announced Player of the Week by Reese’s. As if that wasn’t enough, he had the games first sack. Oh, and the week got even better as he became a father on January 22nd when his daughter, Kambridge, was born.

Saunders was invited to the NFL Combine on February 9th, after displaying his talents at the Senior Bowl. Less than a months notice, Khalen was ready for the big stage. He participated in six of the seven events at the combine. The event that stood out for him was his 40-yard dash. He ran the fourth fastest time within the defensive tackles, running a 5.01. He did 27 reps of bench press, which earned him 17th out of 72 who competed from the linebackers, edge rushers and d-line. His vertical and board jump was at 30.5 and 101. His three-cone drill was at 7.57 seconds, and the 20-yard shuttle was 4.62 seconds. He didn’t compete in the 60-yard shuttle.

Saunders said in his interview portion of the combine, “No matter what you do there will be people doubting you. There will be people saying you aren’t as good as you think, no matter how many times you’ve validated it. Just remember you’re doing it for yourself, not others.”

The 2019 NFL Draft will be held in Nashville, Tennessee from April 25-27. In that three-day span many lives will be changed for the better. Saunders has not needed to wait for April 25th for his life to change. His back flips have gone viral, he was the Senior Bowl Player of the Week, he participated in the NFL Combine and most importantly he started a family. In late April it will be just another milestone for Saunders and his family in his young life.