“I want the fans to know above all else that I don’t take my responsibility or commitment lightly."
Saunders, who will serve a four-game suspension at the outset of the 2012 season for a violation of the NFL’s substance policy, was invited to participate in the 2011 Steelers training camp as an undrafted free agent.
His initial plan, following an unceremonious end to his University of South Carolina football career, was to accept the invitation from the first team that invited him to a camp. That first call actually came from the Baltimore Ravens, but the Steelers AFC North rivals called his campus phone at South Carolina -- where he had already moved from. The Steelers however, called his cell phone and Saunders ultimately donned the Black and Gold.
Following the tumultuous ending to his career at USC, and his controversial—and disputed—suspension, Sauders is determined to learn from his mistakes.
“Once you make a mistake and those are magnified, people label you as one thing or another,” Saunders said. “I appreciate people who take the time to actually take the time to get to know me. And give me a chance to grow and change.”
The Steelers have done just that.
“I hope they think talented guy with a lot of potential, who works hard and can contribute for years to come,” he said about what he hopes the Steelers coaches think of him.
Steelers fans began to learn Saunders’ name when he caught the lone TD pass with a spectacular play in the end zone against the Chiefs last season.
“When the play was called I was never the target,” Saunders recalled. “I’m supposed to be a decoy. That was not a designed play. When Ben got blitzed and rolled left, I saw he was in trouble and that’s when I broke. When I saw the ball coming to me, I just thought, ‘Catch the ball and get my feet down.’”
Saunders is looking forward to the coming season, and potentially playing a larger role in the team’s offense.
“Ben trusts me a little more and the coaches know what I am capable of so I think I will play a larger role this year,” he said.
And like his teammates on offense, Saunders has been working hard to learn the team’s new offense under new coordinator Todd Haley.
“Everything is brand new and it’s not been an easy task, but once you get it’s like a whole puzzle coming together,” he said. His ultimate goal is to, “do everything I can to be my best to stay healthy, prevent injury and ultimately contribute to the team.”
GET TO KNOW WES SAUNDERS
On his father, Barry, a newspaper columnist for the Raleigh News & Observer: “My pops was a stern guy. What he said goes. He put a lot of fear in me for a long time. But I look up to him. He was always looking out for me. I admire his discipline and his talent. He’s a great journalist. He’s shaped me and molded me into the man I am today.”
On the new draftees: “I’ve connected a little more with Mike Adams. He’s 21-years-old and has made a few mistakes. I hope to show him the ropes and makes sure he doesn’t make the same mistakes I’ve made.”
On social media: “I would consider myself to be a big Twitter guy. Fans are so appreciative of our interactions on there. Sometimes, responding to a question can make someone’s day, and that’s easy to do. So, I enjoy it and its fun.”
Follow Wes on Twitter: @Wes_Saunders88
Favorite musician: Bruno Mars
Favorite athletes: Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark.
Role model athlete growing up: John Mackey
Favorite Food: Eggs, any syle
Favorite Place to go out in Pittsburgh: Hyde Park
Been to a Pirates Game: Yes. Die-hard fans!
Been to a Pens Game: Yes, those fans are mad!
Down time activity: Watch movies
Life after football: Journalism