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Catching Up With … Mike Saunders

[ 0 ] November 12, 2011 |

Twenty years ago Saturday, Mike Saunders of Milton, Wis., tied a school record when he became the fifth Hawkeye to score four touchdowns in one game.

Three of those TDs came in the first quarter, helping send the No. 8 Hawkeyes past No. 25 Indiana on the way to a 10-1-1 season that ended with a Holiday Bowl tie against Brigham Young.

Saunders, now living in North Liberty with his wife, Heather, and their two daughters, played eight seasons in the Canadian Football League before returning to Iowa in 2000 to work in medical sales, start a family and help form the nonprofit Iowa Football Club.

Saunders was Saskatchewan’s second all-time leading rusher.  Between two stints with the Roughriders were stops at San Antonio, Montreal, Hamilton and Toronto.

Saunders, 42, remembers that Indiana game well. This wasn’t a typical Hoosier team. Trent Green was the quarterback and Vaughn Dunbar was leading the nation in rushing.

It was one of Hayden Fry’s best teams as well. Only a loss to Michigan kept the Hawkeyes from a second straight New Year’s Day bowl.

After playing receiver as a junior and catching five passes for 99 yards in the Rose Bowl, Saunders moved from receiver to running back his senior year and ran for 1,022 yards. He finished his college career with a 103-yard game in San Diego and was one of eight Hawkeyes named first-team all-Big Ten.

Saunders’ versatility prompted Fry to call him the closest thing he had to receiver-turned-tailback Ronnie Harmon.

Considering Harmon’s unique talent, that’s quite a compliment, wouldn’t you say?

“I might have been the closest thing, but I was still a fair distance away. Ronnie was special.”

How did the Iowa Football Club (Iowafootballclub.com) come about?

“We started it in 2003 but didn’t really get it going until the last 18 months with the help of the Iowa athletic department and Kirk Ferentz. Our first football camp attracted 600 kids over three days in the Quad Cities. It’s a neat opportunity for former Hawkeyes to reconnect as a group, support Iowa football and give back to the community.”

Who else is involved?

“Hap Peterson was a driving force. He and Matt Hughes, Bill Happel, John Derby and if I don’t mention Joe Mott he’ll probably get mad at me. The group spans a lot of years of Hawkeye football. Some of the younger guys have been instrumental as well.”

One of the older guys has two kids on the current team.

“It’s funny how times change. My former roommate ‘Derbs’ has Zach and A.J. And Matt Rodgers’ son, Kyle, plays trumpet in the band.”

Do your daughters play sports?

“Rachael is a sixth-grader and Ella is in third grade, and they both play on basketball teams coached by (former Hawkeye) Acie Earl. It’s really a neat community. Iowa is unique in that so many guys stay so close to the program. Some of that’s because we’ve had only two coaches over the last 30 years and Kirk has been so good about trying to foster the tradition. The Iowa Football Club does everything we can to support him, and he’s an easy guy to get behind.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Marc Hansen: Marc Hansen is a sports columnist for The Des Moines Register. View author profile.

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