Kaden Saunders Emerging As Versatile Asset For Penn State Football
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Kaden Saunders is using his versatility to emerge as a productive asset for Penn State football this season. Now three weeks into the campaign, he has seen increased playing time as both a receiver and punt returner.
After not registering any statistics against West Virginia, Saunders recorded five punt returns for 30 yards against Delaware. He followed that up with two returns for 16 yards against Illinois, while also making two receptions for 19 yards to register his first career statistics as a wideout in Champaign.
Saunders, a former four-star recruit from Columbus, Ohio, is a resourceful athlete who is beginning to take on a bigger role in games. While it remains to be seen how he’ll fit into a crowded wide receiver room as the season progresses, he’s begun to see more time as a punt returner.
“Ever since middle school when they started punting, that’s whenever I started returning punts,” Saunders said. “Playing baseball helps with that too…playing centerfield growing up, tracking the ball, it just comes easy to me.”
A former DI baseball prospect, Saunders gained more confidence by learning from former wide receiver Parker Washington and by getting more reps during camp.
“[Washington] was really good at catching punts, so he taught me a lot, as well as over the summer,” Saunders said. “I was really working on a lot with our punters, so my confidence catching the ball is really, really high right now.”
James Franklin also noticed positive differences from the young wide receiver, both physically and how he plays.
“I think he’s really starting to build the confidence and acquire the strength,” Franklin said. “I think the big thing for him as a true freshman is he was an undersized guy, but also needed time in the weight room to develop and get stronger…but he’s got the strength and the confidence to go out and play the way we need him to play.”
Saunders also feels that he improved in multiple areas since last season. Listed at 5’10” and 175 pounds, he’s an undersized receiver. But that has so far proved to be something Saunders can manage as he’s begun taking on a bigger role.
What Saunders lacks in size is made up for in speed. He reportedly ran below a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash, a feat accomplished by just five wide receivers at the 2023 NFL Combine. If Saunders continues to develop, Penn State could have a dangerous weapon on its hands. His development is evident not only in his statistics but also in how he feels he’s improved since last season.
“I feel like I’m in a way better spot, mentally and physically, than I was last year,” Saunders said. “Just getting that experience, being able to be on special teams and find my way onto the field to help the offense is only going to continue to increase my confidence.”
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About the Author
When paired with the Thespian Society by Penn State THON, the world changed for Theresa Illicete.
Fashanu is the Nittany Lions’ most recent First-Team All-American since Micah Parsons in 2019.
Johnson is the second Penn Stater to declare for the NFL Draft.