Q&A with Sauce Gardner: Talking Saleh, Jets fans and creating his own sauce

·8 min read

It’s been quite a ride over the last year for New York Jets rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner. Last year, he was a key piece in helping the Cincinnati Bearcats become the first Group of Five team to ever make the College Football Playoff.

In April, he was the No. 4 overall pick and was quickly viewed as one of the best cornerback prospects in some time. Now, he’s starting in Week 1 as a rookie for the Jets.

Not only that, but he actually is making even stronger use of his nickname “Sauce,” as he has partnered with Buffalo Wild Wings to make a new sauce, aptly called “Sauce Sauce”.

We had a chance to talk with Gardner regarding his new partnership with Buffalo Wild Wings, as well as his time so far with the Jets, from the day he was drafted to his work with the other cornerbacks in New York.

You grew up a family man in Detroit. What was it like growing up and what does it mean now for you to be in the NFL? Especially for your mother because I know she did a lot for you and you want to give back to her.

“Man, honestly, yesterday, before the preseason game, me and my mom, we’re just texting each other and then she just sent me a picture of the first house that we lived in and then she sent me the second we lived in and the third one and I was looking at these houses and I’m like, ‘Dang, it was really like 740 square feet in these houses.’ You know what I’m saying? It was just crazy. But now that I look at it now, I got her a house, I got myself a house and it’s like a hundred times better than what we used to live in when I was growing up, so that just motivated me yesterday. Now that I think about it, it just motivated me, like that’s going to be my motivation this whole season, remembering where I came from and knowing where I’m at now and knowing where I can be in the future, so it’s just a blessing to be able to do the things that I’ve done for her and looking forward to what the future holds.”

What have been some of the challenges, some of the differences between college and pro? What do you think have been some of your strengths or things that you've improved on? Who do you model your game after? Is there anything you think you need to improve on? And being able to work with guys like D.J. Reed and Bryce Hall, how has that helped you improve your game so far?

“Those two guys, they helped me improve a lot. They’ve been in the league for years, so no, I just make sure I’m being a sponge, I make sure I’m listening to them guys. They just help motivate me to help me be the best that I can be. I used to model my game after Jalen Ramsey. I still watch him a lot and I have some things that we have that are the same so I kind of model my game after him still. So one of the main things that I had to adjust to, just understanding that everybody in the NFL is good, it’s not just like that one standoff receiver who just the best, you know what I’m saying? All the receivers are good so I got to make sure I’m on my Ps and Qs against everyone. I think I improved a lot in all categories, tackling, footwork, physicality, a lot of things. And just my mentality and my mindset when I go into a game, I think has improved a ton since college.”

It feels like it's such a strong culture right now with the Jets and Robert Saleh. What kind of inspiration does Coach Saleh give? What's the feeling of the culture and the atmosphere with the Jets and Coach Saleh?

“It’s a great culture. Coach Saleh, he probably is from 15 minutes away from where I’m from so I know we got quite similar backgrounds, so that’s why when we first met, that was just meant to be and I was meant to be a Jet, be with a head coach that’s a defensive head coach, head coach that’s really from where I’m from. So the atmosphere is great.”

You talked about the preseason game, talking with your mom. What's been that atmosphere like, actually playing in NFL games? And what's your mindset going into the regular season?

“I just want to dominate whoever will line up in front of me. And the atmosphere and the games, they’ve been great, especially when you play at home. You playing at home, the atmosphere definitely is going to be great, especially in New York, so it’s just a blessing to be able to play, be able to shine bright under the light.”

What kind of vibe do you get from Jets fans? How do you feel they've embraced you so far?

“With open arms. They bring that energy to the stadium. Even when I’m not on the field at the stadium, they still bringing the energy if they see me just out in public. So they embrace me with open arms in New Jersey, in New York, all around. So it’s just a blessing to be here. I feel like I’m wanted. Instead of me just wanting to go to a place where I’m not wanted, I feel like I’m truly wanted here.”

And even going back when you were drafted by the Jets, what were some of your thoughts? Can you remember the phone call with Coach Saleh and Joe Douglas? Do you remember what you were feeling and how your family was?

“Yeah, I was really just anxious. I just always dreamed of getting drafted. I couldn’t even really get too emotional, cry or anything because I was just really just looking at my family members, their emotions and their reactions to when I got drafted and everything like that. You know what I’m saying? I feel like that day was all dedicated to them and everything that they did for me. You know what I’m saying? The phone call with Coach Saleh, it was crazy. I remember I was just so anxious and I had got that phone call and it’s like my heart dropped because the phone call came so early so I’m like, ‘Dang, I’m really about to get drafted.’ Fourth pick. Highest drafted pick in Cincinnati history was the fifth so I told him, ‘You know, if y’all draft me, I’m going to be the highest drafted, man.’ He told me, ‘Well, it’s about to happen.’ That was just crazy.”

Speaking of Cincinnati, obviously, you got the chance to be on the same field yesterday as your old buddy Desmond Ridder. Did you get a chance to talk to him before the game? How much have you guys been able to keep in touch since getting drafted?

“Yeah, we always keep in touch, even if… The day before the first joint practice, we were talking a little trash to each other on FaceTime. So we always keep in touch. We always going to keep in touch no matter what happens.”

And even some of your other guys – that Cincinnati secondary was chock full of great players. What was it about Luke Fickell and that coaching staff that made you guys so good and NFL-caliber players?

“Just the coaches, they all knew what it took to get where we wanted to go. And as for the players, we just had to buy in to what they said, and as we bought in and just became stronger and stronger, created a stronger brotherhood, that just allowed us to play real fast on the field. Being able to have great communication, just know that we doing it for one another.”

Congratulations on this new partnership. What led you to partner with Buffalo Wild Wings and what made you to want to create your own sauce? What kind of sauce is it?

“I feel like it was just a natural combination. They truly value sauce and I do as well. My name’s Sauce, I feel like I could be the best in the NFL one day and Buffalo Wild Wings, they already the best in the game right now. I feel like it was natural. I grew up always going to Buffalo Wild Wings, like high school with my high school teammates, always watching football and eating their food so I wouldn’t want it to be anywhere else but at Buffalo Wild Wings. And my sauce, it’s a smoky, sweet and spicy barbecue. I’m a huge barbecue guy, but I also like some type of spice so I feel like it’s the perfect ideal sauce.”

Any quick final words you want to say about Buffalo Wild Wings and why people should go out and try your sauce? I know I'm personally looking forward to it. I can't wait to try it.

“Man. I would say, man, it’s a whole list of things I can say about it, but I just feel like it’s just natural. I feel like everyone should try it. I’m looking forward to the day that it releases and it’s fortunate to release on August 31st on my birthday. I’m looking forward to that and I’m looking forward to all the fans’ reactions and what everybody got to say about it.”

Story originally appeared on Jets Wire