While playing defensive line, Khalen Saunders shines thanks to his quick feet, agility and power.
The 310-pound Saunders, a junior at Western Illinois who leads the team in sacks, also impresses off the field as well. He has a “goofy” sense of humor, plays piano, enjoys tumbling and is a regular at offseason pickup basketball games.
And of course, he can cook.
In this week’s Moving the Chains feature, Saunders discusses a celebrity crush his girlfriend won’t be happy to read about, his favorites around the Missouri Valley Football Conference and which teammate does the funniest impression of head coach Charlie Fisher.
What’s your favorite place on campus?
The Spencer Student Recreation Center, because I play a lot of basketball.
What’s your dream vacation spot?
Somewhere on the water. I’ve always wanted to go jet skiing. I’ve never done that.
What’s the best feeling after a win?
Knowing that all of the work you’ve put in over that six days from one game to the next paid off.
What’s the perfect post-football career for you?
I’m a marketing major, so I’d like to work in advertising and marketing for some type of football program. I always want to stay around football.
Which celebrity would you like to go on a date with?
My girlfriend won’t be too happy to hear about this! But I’d have to say Mila Kunis. I had a crush on her growing up … a lot.
What three words best describe you?
Goofy, passionate and resilient.
Who’s the most inspirational person in your life?
My mom. She’s supported me and my older brother, Kameron, whose passion is dancing and choreography. He danced for the Center of Creative Arts in St. Louis, which is a pretty big dance company. Recently, he’s been choreographing for shows all over the nation. Our whole lives, she’s been bouncing back and forth between football games and dance shows. Those are two different ends of the spectrum. She’s the one who took me to practice before I could drive and bought all my cleats. I can’t be thankful enough for her.
What food do you miss most from your hometown of St. Louis?
Chinese food. It’s the best I’ve ever had. Here in Macomb, there’s a place called Sesame Garden that’s pretty close, but it’s not quite there.
What are your favorite sports teams?
It was the (formerly St. Louis) Rams, but now it’s the Kansas City Chiefs. I like the colors. My high school’s colors were red and black. In basketball, it’s the (Oklahoma City) Thunder. Russell Westbrook is unbelievable.
Why do you wear No. 99?
My favorite player is (Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle) Aaron Donald. He’s the same build as me. He’s a shorter D-lineman who’s about 280, 290 pounds.
Other than WIU, what’s the best uniform in the Missouri Valley Football Conference?
Illinois State, when they wear the all-red uniforms. Red is my favorite color by far.
Which player on the team does the best impression of head coach Charlie Fisher?
Definitely Hunter Varga, our long snapper. We have a talent show at the end of camp. Varga got up and did his Coach Fisher impression. It was pretty funny, I’m not going to lie.
You’ve posted a video on Twitter doing a backflip. What other hidden talents do you have?
I’ve been tumbling since I was 8 years old. That’s where the backflip came from. I also play the piano. I’ve been playing since sixth grade but I’ve never had any lessons. I play by ear. I also make beats and instrumentals on my iPhone. That’s fun.
What’s your favorite dish to cook?
I’m 310 pounds, so you know I can cook! If you’re going for Mexican food, I can make some pretty good nachos. If you’re going for Southern comfort, I can make some fried chicken and sweet potatoes and corn.
Who’s the toughest offensive lineman on the WIU team?
I’d say Jacob Judd, our center. He’s not dirty by any means because he’s the friendliest guy you could meet. He just goes about his business differently. He’s one of the toughest in the nation.
Who are the best athletes you’ve ever played against?
In high school, we played against Jehu Chesson, who went to Michigan and got drafted (by the NFL’s Chiefs). He was freakish. In college, it’s definitely (quarterback) Chris Streveler from South Dakota. It’s not even close. The guy is a backyard football player at its finest. He makes you so mad when he can squirt through a gap.