Mavin Saunders is making some heavy sacrifices as he chases the dream of a college education in the U.S.
Mavin Saunders left the Bahamas in eighth grade for a chance to come to school in the U.S.
Saunders is a native of Bimini, the westernmost district of the Bahamas. It is located off the coast of Florida in the Atlantic Ocean. Saunders, listed at 6-6 and 225 pounds, left his homeland three years ago as part of a program for children in his country to get an education in the U.S.
He spent a year at a prep school before moving to The Kinkaid School in Houston. He lives with a host family and only gets to see his parents a few days a year when he can return home.
“I’m in a program from the Bahamas,” Saunders said. “My parents are back home. The program brings kids from our country up here to go to school.
“It’s real difficult being away from your parents and your friends. I go once a year, usually around Christmas when I’m not involved in sports. The sports take up all of your time. I go once a year and I talk to them probably every other day (by phone). They just tell me to keep fighting and keep going.”
Saunders said he wanted the chance to get away and make a life for himself in the States.
“My country right now is not in the right state,” he said. “Growing up there, there are a lot of things that happen there and it’s turmoil there. People I know there wish they had the opportunity I have to get out of there. I was blessed enough to have this opportunity. I’m just taking the challenge head on. I want to go as far as I can with this.”
Basketball was Saunders’ original conduit out of the Bahamas. But this past year, he was convinced to take up the game of football – and he became an instant success as a wide receiver.
“I got the job here at Kinkaid three years ago and when I got here he had just been admitted to the school,” said Kinkaid football coach Stephen Hill. “I had nothing to do with bringing him in here. I was fortunate to see him play a little bit of basketball. He is a basketball superstar. As I watched him do that, I kept thinking to myself, ‘Man, this guy would be great out on the football field.’
“He’s just a naturally gifted athlete. There is nothing he can’t do. He can pick up a baseball. He can throw it and looks good doing it. We threw him a football and he showed he could catch anything. After two years of begging him to come play football, he decided to give it a go.”
According to Hill, Saunders had never picked up a football while growing up in the Bahamas.
“He never even played football with his friends in the yard,” Hill said. “He knew nothing about football except what he saw on TV. I am just tremendously pleased with the progress he’s made. He is not only learning coverages but during our season he learned how to finish routes and how to get a defensive back to turn his hips and how to break off his routes.
“He learned that we have routes that are double reads. If they’re in a zone, he’ll sit down. If they’re in man coverage, he’ll keep going. At the beginning of the year, he had no idea about any of that. He is really a true student of the game. He wants to get better. He is always asking questions so he can do it right.
“Some guys with his athleticism go out there and just rely on that.”
Saunders discussed the decision to go out for football.
“I came up here for basketball,” he said. “The football coach kept telling me every year to come out and just try football. I did last year for the first time. Going from sport to sport is different. I was able to help the team win.
“I know I am blessed with athleticism and size. It turned out I was more successful than I ever thought I would be.”
As a sophomore in 2011-12, Saunders averaged 16 points and eight rebounds for the Kinkaid basketball team. After joining the football team, Saunders had 40 catches for 505 yards and six touchdowns. Now that there is film of Saunders in action, some colleges are taking note.
“Colleges are recruiting me as a tight end,” Saunders said. “I played outside receiver. It was difficult running routes, but with my size and speed I was able to use my ability to get the ball. As the year went on, I got better at running routes. By the end of the year, I was getting double- and triple-teams. People started focusing on me and that helped our other receivers.”
Hill said Saunders’ development on and off the field has been nothing short of inspirational.
“A lot of times … people take things for granted,” Hill said. “When it comes to Mavin, he came over and he’s taking classes where he didn’t even know who Christopher Columbus. He’s taking history classes and some of the kids take some of that for granted. He’s learning things from the ground up.
“This is a hard school. Kinkaid is an academically oriented, rigorous school and the studies are hard. He’s putting in the time and effort in his classes. His English teacher called me the other night. He finally made his first A and she was crying because she was so happy. He’s putting the time and effort into it in the classroom.
“He has taken a very tough route. He said, ‘Coach, I’m going to make the most of this opportunity.’ There isn’t anybody who will work harder than Mavin.”
Hill talked about how Saunders size and athleticism could translate to the college level.
“The University of Texas came in here and saw him,” Hill said. “Their assistant said he would be a defensive end because he is just so big. I don’t think he will be a defensive player because he may not be physical enough.
“I’ve got him right now out on the edge. I would compare him to a Calvin Johnson-type receiver with that body type or an Andre Johnson. A lot of colleges I have talked have said they might put him at tight end. But for the time and resources I have here and to be able to get him to where he can get down in a stance and learn all of the blocking concepts, I think he is better served to be out where he is.
“He’s got a skill set that not many people have. He can go up and high point a ball. There’s nobody who can keep him from catching it.”
One college coach who seems to have faith in Saunders is newly hired Florida State assistant Tim Brewster, a former NFL assistant and head coach at the University of Minnesota. Brewster convinced Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen to extend Saunders an offer while he was there. Then, after he moved to Florida State this winter, he convinced FSU coach Jimbo Fisher to follow suit.
“Coach Brewster is the one who offered me,” Saunders said. “He moved to Florida State and convinced them to offer me. He sees something in me. He’s told me to stay on top of things. He talks to me almost every other day. He really wants to work with me and he thinks he can help me.
“Right now, I’d say Florida State is my favorite. I am hoping to visit there this summer. I think other schools are waiting on this spring.”
According to Hill, Mississippi State and Florida State are Saunders’ only offers to date. He expects that to change, however.
“Those are the only ones who have offered him,” Hill said. “Nobody really knows him. They are starting to get to know him. He had never played before. There are coaches who come in and say, ‘I can’t recruit him. He’s going to go to Alabama or Florida.’
“Maryland is going to offer him. They want to come down and do it in person. Texas A&M called me on him last night. It’s starting to pick up a little bit.”
According to the latest 247Sports.com recruiting rankings, Saunders checks in as the nation’s No. 196 prospect for 2014 overall. He is also listed as the No. 4 tight end as well as the 24th-best prospect in the Lone Star State.
Saunders is excited about the chance to have a college scholarship. He’s been away from home for three years and made some amazing sacrifices to put himself in this position.
“Definitely, the goal is to make it professionally as an athlete,” he said. “But the goal is also to get to college and get that degree. I know that will help me. I want the whole experience of going to college. I want that degree so I can help back home the best that I can.”