It didn’t take long for New York Jets star Ahmad ‘Sauce’ Gardner to assert himself as one of the premier talents in the league. It’s rare to categorize a rookie as an elite player in the game in any sport but labeling him with any lesser adjective would be discrediting his ability. Sauce became the first rookie cornerback to garner All-Pro laurels since NFL legend Ronnie Lott did in 1978. He’s the frontrunner for the Defensive Rookie of the Year as that would complete his checklist of individual goals he had coming into the season.
“That was one of my three goals,” Sauce Gardner tells Complex. “Pro Bowl, All-Pro, and Defensive Rookie of the Year. I collected two of those accolades so far… I’m looking forward to seeing if I can get that Defensive Rookie of the Year.”
Whether it’s man-to-man coverage or securing business opportunities, everything seems to come easy for Sauce. But that’s nothing new for him as he told us that even school was a breeze growing up.
“I was always so smart like 4.0s, 3.5s,” Gardner says. “School was so easy to me man so that wasn’t the hard part. Football was the hard part. I always put football first but I wouldn’t tell kids to put football first because school doesn’t come naturally easy to everyone.”
With a name like ‘Sauce’ and being a star in one of the biggest sports markets in America, the sponsorships will naturally flow in. Sauce’s latest partnership is with TUMS® to launch TUMSWORDY, the biggest word game for fans on The Big Game.
We caught up with Sauce Gardner to chat about the Jets’ ceiling, if he can become the GOAT cornerback, why Eli Apple should humble himself, and more.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity)
How did this partnership with Tums come about?
I’m just a competitive guy and I seen they had the TUMSWORDY going on. I felt it was great for me because it’s a competitive game. It’s a great thing to do leading up to the game. I’m truly excited to have this partnership with them. It’s a true blessing. Tums is a big brand and they have a lot cool people there. They have great staff and like I said, I’m a competitive person so when they came at me with the offer to participate in this, I was all in.
Switching to football, securing All-Pro as a rookie is a difficult and rare accomplishment in this day and age. Was that even a goal of yours in your first year especially playing in a tough city like New York?
Yea most definitely. That was one of my three goals. Pro Bowl, All-Pro, and Defensive Rookie of the Year. I collected two of those accolades so far but I’m not really one of those that focuses on accolades. I try to go out there on the field and dominate. The accolades will take care of itself. Since the season is over now, I’m looking forward to seeing if I can get that Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Doing that in your first year already puts you on pace to be an all-time great. With that being said, do you think you can be the greatest to ever do it at your position?
Oh yeah, most definitely. There’s a lot of great guys I watch like Deion Sanders. I still study their game. The fact that was I able to come in and be on pace to where I want to end is a true blessing. But I want to be able to win a Super Bowl. That’s my main goal. That’s the main thing I want to get out of this.
Speaking of an all-time great, Jets legend Darrelle Revis has given you a lot of praise on your game, Is that someone you learn from or has impacted you in anyway since your arrival to the league?
We watch tape together actually. He’s a guy I talk to from time-to-time. I definitely got a lot of respect for him. I watch his game and I appreciate the words of wisdom he’s been able to give me before I even got dressed in a Jets uniform until after the season. It’s a true blessing to have somebody like that in my corner to help me along the way.
You just mentioned you want to win a Super Bowl, the Jets are trending in the right direction backed by your defense. What’s the next step for your Jets?
We gon’ make the playoffs. I feel like that’s going to be the easy part. Like I said, I want to play in the Super Bowl and I want to win the Super Bowl. I know my coaches want to do that as well and my teammates as well so I think we’ll be able to make the playoffs with no problem.
You guys had a pretty solid jump last year from your previous season but it may have been overshadowed by your counterparts the New York Giants. Do you guys get motivated by watching their success this season?
It definitely motivates me. Not only me but it motivates my teammates and my coaches. The type of teammates and coaches I have, they’re extremely competitive. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Switching to an everlasting topic. There’s always debate online of who the top receivers in the league are. You go up against them everyday and have locked up a lot thme, who are the top 5 guys you’ve competed against so far and in your opinion, who are the top 5 overall?
Amari Cooper. Stefon Diggs. Tyreek Hill. Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase but at the same time Justin Jefferson too so I don’t know. I don’t know (how to rank the top 5 overall) but none of those receivers had their best game against us, I’ll tell you that.
So give me your corners now.
I gotta start with my dog DJ Reed, Jalen Ramsey, Jaire Alexander, Pat Surtain, and I’ll say (Darius) Slay.
There was a cornerback recently dominating headlines but not for his play. As someone who’s pretty active on Twitter yourself, what’s your thoughts of Eli Apple blasting the Bills on Twitter? (INTERVIEW BEFORE AFC CHAMPIONSHIP)*
I seen that. I don’t get down like that because I respect the game too much to get down like that. I ain’t no social media type person. I like social media but I ain’t gon’ tweet like that at somebody because I respect the game too much. I don’t condone that. I feel like he should stay humble because they’re still in the playoffs because you never know what could happen. I feel like that’s why a lot of people hate him, his performance don’t match his words.
I talk a lot of trash in a game but I ain’t really gonna go on Twitter and do much talking for real especially if somebody got eliminated from the playoffs because I know how I’d feel if I got eliminated from the playoffs.
I saw recently that you tweeted you’re going back to school and on track to graduate this summer, what does that mean to get your degree? Is that something that’s always been important to you growing up?
Honestly, when I was younger it was all football but I was always so smart like 4.0s, 3.5s, school was so easy to me man so that wasn’t the hard part. Football was the hard part. When I was young, they always used to talk about the percentage of people that make it to the league so I wasn’t focused on school because it was so easy. I was literally focused on football. I would go to school like ‘that’s easy, I’m done with my work. Boom.’ I always put football first but I wouldn’t tell kids to put football first because school doesn’t come naturally easy to everyone. I’m one of three to make it to the league so my mom is so used to getting degrees from her kids so I didn’t want to be the odd one out. My mom probably wouldn’t even look at me the same if I was playing football and couldn’t make time to get my degree.
You were at the Nets game earlier this month and had a jersey swap with Kevin Durant. You’re in a crowded city of stars whether it’s KD, Aaron Judge, Saquon, do you think you can become the face of New York sports one day?
Yeah, I feel like that would be easy. No problem. I just got to stay focused and stay humble. If God keeps blessing me with these accolades, I just got to take them as intrinsic motivation and keep ballin’.