Late in the third quarter of the Kansas City Chiefs primetime Week 8 matchup versus the Green Bay Packers, Chiefs DT Khalen Saunders (pronounced “Colin”) chased down QB Aaron Rodgers for his first career NFL sack. The rookie followed up his milestone with a jovial rock-the-baby celebration. When asked where the gesture originated from, the Chiefs third-round draft pick was quick to pass the credit to an NBA star.
“I originally got it from [Houston Rockets PG] Russell Westbrook,” said Saunders. “I got it from him.”
The similarity to Westbrook’s signature move from this past NBA season is easy to see:
Saunders is no stranger to the basketball courts either, so it’s fitting that he draws inspiration from the hardwood. The 23-year-old earned the nickname “Fat Kyrie,” in reference to current Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving, during his collegiate days at Western Illinois University.
In an April 2019 feature story, ESPN Senior Writer Adam Rittenburg inquired about Saunders’ basketball prowess, and his former WIU defensive line coach John Haneline shed some light on how the nickname came to fruition.
“He would jump up and pump it to one side and take it to the other side, the old Michael Jordan up and under,” Haneline said. “I would call him ‘The Fat Kyrie.’ The D-line room, we’ve got ‘The Fat Kyrie.’ He was on our team.”
The celebration has family roots for Saunders
While Saunders’ “Rock-a-Baby” dance was likely a new sight for Chiefs fans, it’s not the first time the rookie defensive lineman has busted out the move on the field. During the 2019 Reese’s Senior Bowl, in which Saunders became the first-ever Western Illinois player to participate, he burst through the line for a sack of QB Will Grier before rising to his feet to celebrate.
The moment was especially meaningful for Saunders as he celebrated the birth of his first child. Following one of his practices preparing for the upcoming draft, the then-22-year-old was notified that his fiancee had gone into labor with the couple’s daughter. To Saunders, the baby rocking is more than just playful fun, it’s a tribute to those closest to his heart.
“I think that signifies just kind of playing for something bigger than me, which is my daughter, and any future kids I have,” Saunders reflected in a recent interview. “That’s really a celebration for my family.”
It’s not his first celebration to make headlines
While his on-field play at WIU certainly impressed scouts enough to garner an eventual third-round selection, Saunders made a public name for himself fitting of his 6’0,” 324-pound frame. The pre-draft buzz surrounding the small school prospect was sparked by none other than his backflipping ability.
Despite his size, Saunders has shown off the innate ability to move his body in ways most people would only dream of. Even ESPN’s Adam Schefter was impressed by the show of athleticism when he shared a video tweet of Saunders during the week of the 2019 NFL Draft.
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