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.

TYLER TJOMSLAND | Times

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.

SEFFNER

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 hillsnews@sptimes.com.

. 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 5:30am]

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