Becca Langys/ Photo Editor
Former Western Illinois University Leatherneck and current defensive tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs is on his way to Miami in pursuit of the Lombardi Trophy.
Khalen Saunders was at Western from 2014-2018 where he made his presence known as the anchor of the defensive line. Saunders redshirted the 2014 season and came in the 2015 season with a bang, playing all 13 games, recording 27 tackles and 2.5 sacks. In his sophomore year, he was named an Honorable Mention for the All-Missouri Valley Conference team. He started all 11 games and increased his productivity with 48 tackles. Saunders’ junior season came with an increase in name recognition across the Missouri Valley Conference. He was placed on the Honorable Mention Preseason All-Missouri Valley Football Conference, Phil Steele’s All-American list and First Team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference team. In his final season with the Leathernecks, Saunders recorded 72 tackles and 6.5 sacks.
Saunders gained notoriety before the 2019 draft with his athleticism that went viral on Twitter from a tweet by Adam Schefter showing off his ability to do a backflip. Saunders went on to impress in his performance at the Senior Bowl and was drafted in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs came into the 2019-2020 NFL season as heavy favorites to make the Super Bowl and after a turbulent season and a colossal injury scare in the form of a knee dislocation from star quarterback Patrick Mahomes, they’ve made it to the biggest stage after a 35-24 victory over the red-hot Tennessee Titans in the AFC Championship game. Saunders recorded one tackle in the game. This will be the Chiefs’ chance to win the franchise’s first Super Bowl since 1970 when they defeated the Minnesota Vikings 23-7 in Louisiana.
In Saunders’ rookie season, the 324-pound lineman recorded 22 total tackles and one sack. The one sack came against one of the premier quarterbacks in the league, Aaron Rodgers in their matchup against the Packers on Sunday Night Football.
Saunders went to social media after the highly emotional win on Sunday.
“Loved meeting Mr. Hunt’s trophy, but I’m trying to see that Lombardi now. Super Bowl bound,” Saunders said.
On Monday, he took to social media again to say that he and his Kansas City Chief teammates are not finished yet.
“Woke up feeling like I still got something to prove. We ain’t done. Victory Monday,” Saunders said.
The Chiefs will take on the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 54 on Sunday, Feb. 2 at the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.