Dad taught Saunders that details matter, a lot

Rob Oller
Ohio State receiver C.J. Saunders would like to become the Buckeyes' version of Julian Edelman. [Dispatch file photo]

Ohio State receiver C.J. Saunders is bigger than his father, Tim, which is like saying a peanut is bigger than a pea. We’re not talking Shaq vs. Charles Barkley here.

“I still weigh 155 pounds, which is what I was in high school,” said Tim Saunders, the longtime baseball coach at Dublin Coffman High School.

Saunders is 60. I know — disgusting.

C.J. is a fifth-year senior who weighs 33 pounds more than his father, and at 5 feet 10 stands an inch taller. But neither is physically intimidating.

Mentally? That’s a different story, one that dates to Tim’s own athletic history and threads through his son’s sports career. Some see a devil in the details; Tim sees angels. Paying attention to the particulars has helped him win 579 games and one state championship at Coffman. Ever meticulous, he still helps maintain the Shamrocks’ pristine baseball facility.

Tim used his lack of size as a weapon, drawing from a double holster of smart and precise to outduel the strength and speed of more physically gifted athletes. Eventually, Tim deputized C.J. into the Department of Detail.

My mother would call C.J. a “mannerly boy.” The former Coffman standout is respectful without being saccharine. He is solid. And smart.

Physical tools? Above average — Tim credits his wife, Janie, who swam at Tennessee and Indiana, for passing the athletic gene to their son — but not exceptional. C.J. lacks the speed of Parris Campbell and the strength of Terry McLaurin, but there is more to developing an impressive skill set than relying on DNA. Saunders distinguishes himself through the precision he brings to his position.

“It’s really hard for me to find a bad (video) clip of him,” Ohio State receivers coach Brian Hartline said. “C.J. is a guy I use as an example a lot, whether it’s taking tests in our room or overall effort.”

Stop right there. This is not a position coach talking up a backup to keep him engaged. Saunders has 27 catches and eight punt returns in two seasons. He is going to play, especially with Campbell, McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon having moved on.

The former walk-on is too valuable to disappear down the depth chart. His pass-catching technique is among the best on the team, and while the receiving group is crowded, Saunders sees a chance to become the Buckeyes’ version of New England Patriots slot receiver Julian Edelman, the most recent Super Bowl MVP who is the same height and 10 pounds heavier.

“You don’t have to be 6-4 or be able to vertically jump 40 inches to be a really good football player,” Saunders said. “What my dad taught me is there are a ton of ways besides production to be different.”

Pay attention, kids, because it’s an important lesson: Find your niche and own it. Saunders so excels at running routes and always knowing where he needs to be on the field that teammates stare at their shoes during meetings.

“I can grab C.J.’s (meeting) test and put it on the overhead and, ‘OK, let me grab somebody else’s test for comparison,’ and nobody wants me to put their test up there,” Hartline said.

The Buckeyes don’t win games on paper, of course, but if not for being diligent toward detail, Saunders likely never would have entered those games in the first place.

“The whole thing is, how do you separate yourself?” Saunders said, echoing Hartline’s meeting-room mantra. “For me, that’s putting everything I know into running a route.”

Details matter. Dad did a good job with this one.


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