C.J. Saunders called his mom first.

Then he called his dad.

There was some big news to share.

Saunders, a senior wide receiver at Ohio State, had been voted as one of the team’s seven captains for this season, news he learned Monday morning at a team meeting.

He joined linebacker Tuf Borland, defensive end Jonathon Cooper, running back J.K. Dobbins, safety Jordan Fuller, wide receiver K.J. Hill and defensive end Chase Young.

The captaincy marks a significant milestone for Saunders, one that seemed unlikely when he joined the program as an undersized walk-on from Dublin Coffman.

And though Saunders earned a scholarship in 2017, he never became a starter, put up showy statistics or emerged as a prime target. He has 27 career catches.

Coach Ryan Day said Monday he expected Saunders to begin the season as the backup slot receiver behind Hill. But other factors raised Saunders' stature among his teammates.

“You can tell that these guys respect hard work,” Day said. “They respect and really give a lot of credit to the way he's gone about his work every day, the way he handles himself, his character.

“C.J. hasn't played a whole bunch around here. What matters is how he works in the weight room, how he practices, the way he handles himself off the field, in the classroom. It says a lot about our team that they voted him a captain.”

Saunders spent his first season with the Buckeyes in 2016 as a cornerback before moving to receiver.

The position switch served as a moment of optimism when he first spotted a chance to break into the rotation or see other accolades within the program.

“That was when something like this could be real,” Saunders said.

Day said he also expected Saunders to have a role on special teams, though it remained undetermined. Saunders returned eight punts and two kickoffs last season.

As he reflected on Saunders' role on the field for the Buckeyes this season, Day referred to him as "a little bit of a situational guy."

“He's going to help us on special teams, help us in the pass game a bunch,” Day said. “But he's tough. He's got really great short-area quickness, good hands. Glad we got him.”

Saunders sought to keep perspective on his new status as a captain. He credited teammates and coaches.

“It's more of a testament to our program and that it doesn't always matter about how many stars you had or where you're coming out of high school,” Saunders said. “It's all about the respect you earn once you get here.”

Neither 247Sports nor Rivals.com, the predominant recruiting services, even rated Saunders as a high school recruit. Though he’s grown in college, he remains listed only at 5 feet 10 and 190 pounds.

While he met with reporters, Saunders pointed to Joe Burger, a former walk-on linebacker who was a captain in 2016.

“I'm just extremely humbled to be voted by teammates,” Saunders said, “and that they can rely on me to be there for them day in and day out.”

After selecting seven team captains for this season, the Buckeyes feature the same number as last season, though fewer than in 2017, when they voted for nine.

Day had mentioned earlier that four or five was the ideal number for captains, but he settled on keeping seven after the votes were tallied.

There was a gap in the voting between the seventh player and eighth player, he said.

“I thought all were deserving,” Day said. “I thought it was a good mix of offense and defense.”

Among the seven captains, Borland and Fuller were captains for the second straight season.

Ohio State said it has had only 12 other two-time captains in its history.

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman