Ryan S. Clark/Warchant
Anyone who has seen Mavin Saunders ride his scooter early in the morning would likely believe he was headed to class. He was heading to class. It just wasn't a class at Florida State.
The redshirt junior tight end rode his scooter a mile to John G. Riley Elementary, where he did volunteer work. At first, volunteering was a way to get extra credit for a class Saunders was taking.
It's been 18 months, and even though Saunders has long since completed the course, he continues to volunteer. This is why he was recently honored by Leon County Schools as the Outstanding Adult Volunteer of the Year for Riley Elementary.
"Those kids don't have much going for them," Saunders said. "They don't have mentors to help them, to push them, to challenge them and help them reach their potential. I'm just trying to help out, trying to touch a few lives and do the right thing."
Saunders began volunteering in 2015. He's worked around his class schedule so he could be at Riley from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Instead of speaking or working with an entire classroom, he's doing one-on-one work with one student throughout the year.
He said he tries not to talk about football with his mentees. He talks to them about their lives, the challenges they're facing and how they can learn to make better life choices.
"It's teaching them social and academic stuff. My first time doing it was with a kid who was really smart but he had challenges at home," Saunders said. "He didn't have a dad. His dad was in prison, and he has an older brother, but he wasn't doing the right thing. I was stressing to him the importance of making the right choices.
"How to be respectful in school and doing your school work and having the right attitude toward administrators at school and his grandma, who is trying to help him."
Trace Laing, who is the mentoring coordinator at Riley, recalled his first conversation with Saunders. He said Saunders was adamant about wanting to help students.
He told Saunders being a mentor was more than just helping students with the social component. A mentor also has to help students with their classwork.
Laing, who is also an assistant football coach at Leon High in Tallahassee, said most student mentors come for a semester and don't return. He said Saunders' commitment and attention to detail were among his strongest qualities as a mentor.
"If it's math, he's grilling his kid," Laing said of Saunders. "He just makes a difference with the kids. It's kind of like natural to him. It's real natural to the guy."
Saunders said the FSU coaching staff knows about his volunteer work, but several of his teammates do not. He joked how they just assumed he was riding his scooter to an early morning class or meetings.
Saunders said he was "pretty shocked" when Laing told him he would be named the school's volunteer of the year.
He said one of the school's administrators asked for some information and he did not know what it was for until he received a call saying he won the award.
"I was honored by it and I kept it away from everyone, but people figured it out," Saunders said of the award. "Like I said, I am not doing it for any show or anything like that. My goal is to reach out to the kids."