Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Missions trips give Seffner Christian football player purpose off the field

Garrett Saunders, from left, quarterback Tanner Richardson and Seth Lewis pause for a photo in the locker room Monday. The teammates have proved to be a dynamic trio for Seffner Christian.


Garrett Saunders, from left, quarterback Tanner Richardson and Seth Lewis pause for a photo in the locker room Monday. The teammates have proved to be a dynamic trio for Seffner Christian.


Garrett Saunders carefully walked along the crumbling patio and through the doorway of a dilapidated house.

His plan for the summer day? Tear down some siding, replace a rotting floor in the kitchen and, if time allowed, hang some drywall in a closet-sized space that doubles as the family room.

But Saunders wasn't working construction at a summer job trying to earn a little extra change. He was on a South Dakota American Indian reservation, thousands of miles from Seffner, doing mission work with his church youth group.

"We get in there and try to fix these houses up that the people live in," he said. "Most of their housing situations are just terrible.

Saunders, a senior tight end at Seffner Christian, has made the mission trips for the past three years, each time spending a week of his summer to assist needy families on American Indian reservations throughout the country.

"He's a special kid," coach Steve Lewis said.

The conditions of the two-room shanties left Saunders "amazed." Many had leaky roofs, few had reliable plumbing and most were devoid of carpeting. Saunders said that removing black mold from some of the houses "was the worst."

"It was all over the place," he said. "The smell was awful."

It wasn't all work, however. At the end of each week, Saunders said he got to play with the local kids and read them stories from the Bible.

Saunders said the mission trips have made him more thankful.

"You think at home that you don't have that much, but then you see how these people live," he said. "It's very humbling."

He plans on making another trip next summer, possibly to New Orleans, and hopes to do his first international mission trip to Jamaica in 2012 as well.

"A lot of the people there would ask us why we were helping them," he said. "It makes you feel good knowing you made a difference."

Saunders has made quite a difference for the Crusaders on the football field. He has helped build the second-year program much like he built up the homes on the reservation.

Saunders leads Seffner Christian in receptions (13), yards (203) and TDs (4) for the surprising second-year 5-1 Crusaders. He also doubles as the deep tailback in Seffner Christian's heavy package and is fourth with 264 yards rushing on just 24 carries.

"Everyone has learned so much just from last year, especially the offensive line," Saunders said of the Crusaders' inaugural 2-7 2010 season. "This year instead of (quarterback) Tanner (Richardson) getting hit before he even hands the ball off, the offensive line is opening up huge holes."

Saunders, Richardson and Seth Lewis have proved to be a dynamic trio for Seffner Christian. Richardson has accounted for more than 800 yards of offense, while Lewis, the coach's son, is second on the team in rushing.

In the Crusaders' 56-7 win against Shorecrest last week, Richardson accounted for five touchdowns (three running, two passing), Saunders caught both scoring receptions and Lewis led the team with 121 yards on eight carries, while adding two touchdowns.

The win guaranteed them their first .500 season in school history. Seffner Christian has scored at least 35 points on its five-game winning streak and outscored its opponents 235-46 during that stretch.

But Lewis cautioned that tonight's opponent, Community School of Naples, will present a much stiffer challenge.

"From what we've seen on film of them they are fast and quick to the ball," he said. "It's going to be quite a challenge for us. They are a very good football team."

Brandon Wright can be reached at

. If you go

Game night

Community School of Naples (3-4)

vs. Seffner Christian (5-1)

When: 7:30 p.m.

Where: Strawberry Crest High School

Missions trips give Seffner Christian football player purpose off the field 10/20/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 20, 2011 4:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays journal: Erasmo Ramirez ready to start a day after closing game

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — RHP Erasmo Ramirez was on the mound to finish Sunday's 15-inning marathon win over the Twins and will start tonight's game against the Rangers.

    The Rays’ Erasmo Ramirez throws 12 pitches in the 15th inning against the Twins to earn the save then says after the game that he’s ready to make his scheduled start against the Rangers: “My arm feels good.”
  2. Rays exhausted but happy after 15-inning win over Twins (w/video)

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — Before the Rays eventually won Sunday's 6½-hour, 15-inning marathon against the Twins 8-6, they did plenty to lose it. And we need to get that out of the way first.

    The Rays’ Evan Longoria enjoys a laugh after scoring, barely, to tie it in the ninth on Steven Souza Jr.’s two-out single.
  3. Tom Jones' Two Cents: ABC's Indy 500 coverage is stellar again

    TV and Radio

    Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

    Best coverage

    Takuma Sato left, celebrates after winning the Indianapolis 500 as Helio Castroneves is a little late passing him. ABC’s coverage of the race is stellar throughout, with plenty of extras but no fake drama.
  4. Takuma Sato surprise winner of wreck-filled Indy 500

    Auto racing

    INDIANAPOLIS — Takuma Sato, a journeyman driver, became the first Japanese winner of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday when he held off three-time champion Helio Castroneves in a 230-mph wheel-rubbing duel to the finish.

    Scott Dixon’s car goes over the top of Jay Howard, soaring so high that Helio Castroneves drove under it while it was airborne. Stunningly, there were no serious injuries.
  5. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Sunday's Rays-Twins game

    The Heater

    The Rays won because they got two innings of good relief from each of the two pitchers who contributed to them losing Saturday's game, Danny Farquhar (who again struck out Miguel Sano) and Tommy Hunter, who both posted zeroes.