At Grapevine Faith Christian School, the Lions football team has a time-honored tradition called “Open Floor Thursday.”
Each Thursday before a Friday night game, head coach Kris Hogan gives the players an opportunity to speak their minds.
Running back Mark Saunders was fairly new to Open Floor Thursday in 2018. The then-sophomore would refuse his turn because, as the one with the last locker at the time, he felt the most important insights were already imparted by his older, more experienced teammates.
Hogan told Texas Scorecard about an instance in which the 5-foot-9-inch, 170-pound ballcarrier participated and ignited everyone in the locker room.
“He shakes me off when I’m looking at him every week until finally – Week 8 of his sophomore year – I check with him again and he actually says something,” the coach said. “He shocked everyone. It was right on point with what our game plan was and kind of what our team was feeling. And the kids spontaneously erupted in applause.”
Now, it is customary for Saunders to utter the last words of each Open Circle Thursday.
“It’s really kind of a brotherly jab at him,” Hogan said. “They’re not clapping because they’re like, ‘Oh, this is awesome.’ They’re clapping because he’s talking. I think that’s pretty cool.”
While Saunders receives kudos for being a stirring orator at the final practice before game day, he is known more for racking up touchdowns as a reliable go-to weapon in Grapevine Faith’s offensive arsenal. According to Hogan, the junior is the Lions’ featured running back.
“We’re going to really feed him the ball when we’re on offense so we want to make sure he could play all four quarters, particularly in big games,” the coach said.
Hogan, who is the second head football coach in the school’s history, additionally described Saunders as a “very quick and very smooth” runner.
“He puts his foot on the ground and, bam, just changes direction,” Hogan said. “He does so effortlessly and smoothly. He has educated feet.”
Saunders, according to Hogan, currently averages an astounding 10.8 yards per carry and approximately 175 yards per game. Through the first four games, he tallied 686 rushing yards. MaxPreps shows that the two-year speedster ran for 939 yards on 125 carries with 14 touchdowns in his debut season.
“We take him out of games sometimes because we’re ahead,” the coach said.
Hogan compared the Lions’ balanced offensive prowess to that of the Super Bowl-winning Cowboys teams of two decades ago.
In Hogan’s nearly 20 years at Grapevine Faith, sophomores rarely land on the varsity roster. Saunders, however, was “the exception rather than the rule” last year, the coach said.
Though he is a vital cog in the Lions offense, Saunders demonstrates selflessness much to the admiration of Hogan, who touts the rusher’s ability to pass block.
“When it’s time to protect the quarterback, he steps right up, sacrifices his body, and pass blocks, even against larger defensive players,” Hogan said.
Saunders shared the backfield with Malik Caper, who now plays linebacker at Liberty University, during his first year lettering under Hogan. When Caper toted the ball, Saunders helped keep would-be tacklers at bay.
“[Mark] is a very selfless kid,” Hogan said. “He’s a good blocker.”
Off the field, Saunders is “a typical kid for his age.”
“He loves to laugh and hang out with his friends,” Hogan said. “That’s his number one thing.”
The coach expects Saunders and the Lions to get better with each week as they soldier on through district play.