Tiger Kickoff: Before he came to MU, Saunders excelled at Kearney

No matter if it was on the football field or the basketball court, the senior wide out is no stranger to hard work.
Friday, September 5, 2008 | 12:18 p.m. CDT

The Tigers know Tommy Saunders as team captain and dedicated wide receiver who does 100,000 push-ups a year. Quarterback Chase Daniel called him a "workaholic," and coach Gary Pinkel said Saunders is someone who "wants to do everything he can for this football team."

Before Saunders joined the Missouri football team as a walk-on in 2004, he was a star football and basketball player at Kearney High School. Friends say he was just as hardworking as he is now.

"He was always the last one off the field or the basketball floor or the weight room," Kearney football coach Mark Thomas said. "He's a tireless worker."

It was Thomas who encouraged Saunders to take weight training seriously.

"When he was a freshman, it wasn't something he was real fond of," Thomas said.

Before long, working out became almost an obsession for the athlete. Benny Palmer, Saunders' high school friend and Kearney quarterback, said Saunders kept track of his training by writing his bench and squat levels on the bathroom mirror along with inspirational quotes.

Thomas and Palmer said Saunders never drank alcohol in high school and still plays the designated driver role in college.

"He wouldn't even drink soda," Thomas said. "He didn't want to do anything to hurt him or his conditioning."

As serious as Saunders was about sports and being responsible, Palmer said his friend can also act "as goofy as can be." Palmer said he has a video of Saunders imitating magician David Blaine.

Thomas also remembers Saunders' silly side, though he noted Saunders had much tamer hair than he is known for now.

"When he was a junior, after every practice, he'd go through these gyrations out there around the field," Thomas said. When the coach asked one of his teammates what Saunders was doing, the player said, "He's practicing celebrating winning the state championships."

During Saunders' senior year at Kearney, the basketball team made it to the Class 4 championship game, and the football team claimed the title. Palmer remembers that victory dance.

"When we won state, he ran up and down the sidelines celebrating like crazy," Palmer said.

Saunders was a First Team All-State wide receiver and defensive back who earned state defensive player of the year honors from the coaches' association that year.

"He was a leader and obviously a great athlete," Thomas said. "I don't have a son, but if I had one, I'd hope he'd grow up like Tommy."


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