Eagles star Darius Slay’s impact on Sauce Gardner: ‘A crazy circle train’
PHOENIX — Darius Slay noticed that one of the lanky kids in the crowd training with the NFL star at Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Detroit moved a little more athletically than the others.
Years later, it’s a big week for both of them. Slay, who was traded from the Lions to the Eagles in 2020, will play Sunday in Super Bowl LVII. And the kid who stood out from the 15 or 20 on the field? He was freshly crowned NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Sauce Gardner of the Jets.
“I used to be like, ‘Hey man, anybody that is in Detroit and wants to come work out, come holler at this field,’” Slay told The Post. “He hit me up a couple times and was out there with me. It feels good to see some of those guys are now in the league with me.”
Slay, 32, is still at the top of his game, and earned his fifth Pro Bowl selection in the last six years. But Gardner, 22, was a first-team All-Pro and the No. 1-ranked cornerback in the league by Pro Football Focus — 17 spots ahead of Slay — as a rookie.
“I’m really big on helping young kids reach their potential because when I was growing up I didn’t have that,” Slay said. “I can only imagine if [Hall of Famer] Champ Bailey was in my hometown and said, ‘Come work out with me.’ I know damn well I would’ve gone. I wasn’t looking for anything in return, no big shoutout.”
Slay spent seven seasons with the Lions, after growing up in Brunswick, Ga., and developing into a second-round draft pick at Mississippi State.
Gardner used to beg his mother to scrap together savings from her factory job to pay for football camps with the promise that it would help him make big money one day.
“I came from the hood, and I know where Sauce came from because I was at his field,” Slay said. “I just let him know, ‘You can make it out of here, too, just like I did.’ He’s grown into a man and a very polished cornerback. He is playing at a high, high level, and I told him that anything about a receiver he needs, I’ve got him.”
Another way the two are bonded is through Jets cornerbacks coach Tony Oden, who was Slay’s position coach from 2014-17.
“T.O. taught me how to play corner and I took what I learned and didn’t hold anything back from those guys,” Slay said. “It’s like a crazy circle train.”
Slay criticized 49ers receiver Brandon Aiyuk and “this new generation of kids in the league” for “bad sportsmanship” and trash-talking earlier in the week. Gardner has as much swagger as anyone — he refutes PFF’s claim that he allowed one touchdown (after allowing zero in three years of college) — but Slay doesn’t mind.
“It’s cool because he doesn’t disrespect the game,” Slay said. “He can say, ‘I do this or I’m good at this or that.’ It’s OK to hype yourself up. When it comes to disrespecting other folks — and definitely when you are not that good — it’s wild.”