Sauce Gardner doesn’t drink. He doesn’t smoke, not even an occasional victory cigar. He loves his mom and appreciates her sacrifices. He made it out of the mean streets of Detroit. He loves press coverage. He’s well-spoken and confident without an ounce of braggadocio. Oh, and he has a great nickname.
Listening to him speak early Saturday morning at the NFL Scouting Combine, it was difficult not to think about how perfectly Gardner would fit into Wink Martindale’s defense with the New York Giants. Also in the Giants locker room, where new GM Joe Schoen is placing a premium on “smart, tough, dependable” players.
Any story about Gardner has to begin with the origins of his nickname.
“I was given the nickname when I was 6 years old by my Little League coach,” Gardner said. “He said he seen a vision that he don’t think I seen. It means a lot to me. It’s been sticking with me from 6 all the way to now. I’m gonna make sure I run with it.”
What does the nickname mean to the Cincinnati cornerback, who should be a top 10 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft?
“My personal meaning, what I can say it means is a level of confidence,” Gardner said. “When I’m on and off the field I make sure I’ve got the Sauce.”
Gardner said he met with the Giants, who could have a major need for help at cornerback should they be forced to trade James Bradberry to get salary cap relief, on Friday.
How would he feel about the opportunity to play in a blitz-heavy defense like Martindale’s that frequently asks cornerbacks to be on an island?
“I love being left on an island. I don’t have to worry about anybody else but my man,” Gardner said. “I can play man, zone, but I love playing press man.”
Gardner said he is “most definitely” CB1 in this draft class.
Why does he think so?
“My competitive spirit and my love for the game. I put the work in. Unseen work, unrequired hours. I make sure I’m leading by example. I’m not a smoker, not a drinker. I never have, never will. I just make sure I do the little things right,” Gardner said.
“Just me being able to come on the field and change a team. My presence being felt. People being able to look up to me, even if they’re older than me. My love for the game. Me being able to be very competitive. I feel like I could eliminate the best receiver on the field.”
Why doesn’t he smoke or drink?
“I’m just a guy, intrinsic motivation, I naturally just be turned up,” Gardner said. “I don’t need anything to make me feel some type of way.”
How can you not love a kid who calls his mom “my hero”?
“Growing up in Detroit didn’t really have anything. What I did have was a mother who always made the impossible possible. Things I wanted she’d give me a hard time when asking for it. Like Christmas, she’d tell me ‘that game cost $300. But Christmas came the game would be right there. She’s my hero,” Gardner said.
“Detroit is not a place that anybody can just live. You’ve gotta be strong-minded. Everybody in Detroit be drinking and smoking and just being out, and violence. I had strict parents. They just made sure I took a different route.”
Gardner said his mom worked in a plant in Detroit, and that a couple of months ago he convinced her to retire and let him take care of her.
“I told her that she don’t need to work no more,” he said.
“When I wanted her to pay for football camps, she’s be like do you have to go to this camp? I’m like, c’mon I just want to be able to show the coaches what I can do. She’d always end up paying for it so I could showcase my talent. It got me here.”
Gardner did not give up a touchdown in three seasons at Cincinnati, covering 33 games.
“Unseen work. Unrequired hours. Do things when nobody’s watching. That all translates when the lights come on,” he said.
He will eventually give up one, probably many, in the NFL. How will he handle that?
“I don’t have plans on giving one up in the NFL,” Gardner said. “But, I’m not a guy that dwells on the last play. As a cornerback you’ve gotta have short-term memory. I’d say that’s my only disorder, short-term memory loss.”