INDIANAPOLIS – In a twist of irony, Sauce Gardner isn't about the sauce.
Well, not the commercially produced "sauce" that comes in the form of beer, wine and distilled spirits. Growing up in Detroit, Gardner's parents advised he avoid vices like drinking and smoking in order to remain on his path to prosperity, and Gardner never strayed.
"I've never had one of them -- at all," the Cincinnati cornerback said Saturday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "We won AAC Championships (and) they'd bring cigars out and all that, never even had a little cigar. I'm just a guy that -- intrinsic motivation, you know -- even just for me, I naturally just be turnt up. After we get a win, I just naturally be excited. I don't need anything to make me feel some type of way."
Make no mistake: Just because Gardner isn't one to imbibe, that certainly doesn't mean he doesn't have a different kind of sauce. Some call it swagger; to others, it's known as drip.
Sporting a double-decker grill on Saturday that sparkled when he flashed a smile, Gardner -- whose mother still addresses him by his legal name of Ahmad -- clearly has it, no matter what you call it.
"When I'm in my calm mood, I would say that's me being Ahmad," Gardner said. "But the Sauce is within me, so I'm always saucy."
The sauciness has been with Gardner since he first earned the nickname while playing youth football, which was right around the same time he realized he might have a real future in the sport. He said Saturday he has his mother to thank for helping him get to this point.
"Growing up in Detroit, we didn't really have anything," Gardner said. "But what I did have was a mother who always made the impossible, possible. Things that I wanted, she'd give me a hard time when I asked for it, like Christmas, for instance. She'd tell me 'that game costs $300!' But Christmas came and the game would be right there. So she's my hero."
It was about much more than gifts to Gardner, of course, and with his NFL dream soon to become a reality, he was finally able to return the favor by telling his mom to retire.
"It felt great," Gardner said. "She'll always be like, 'Nah, I'm gonna go to work.' It just felt great to be like 'no, you don't have to anymore.' That was just a blessing, because I always told her growing up, 'you ain't gonna have to work anymore.' When I wanted her to pay for camps, she'd be like 'do you have to go to this camp?' ... She'd always end up paying for it so I could showcase my talent. It got me here."
Gardner will have an excellent opportunity to showcase his talent on the biggest testing stage in sports on Sunday when the 2022 class of defensive backs takes the field at Lucas Oil Stadium. The 2021 first-team All-American is anxious to complete his 40-yard dash -- the event for which he's trained the most -- and felt confident enough to call his shot: 4.4 seconds.
"Once I do that, then we can talk," Gardner said.
Should he put together a workout most expect from a cornerback who never allowed a receiving touchdown in his three-year collegiate career, he won't have to do much more talking. Ahmad can take the lead role if he wants to, because Sauce will have done the work made possible by his mother.
A day before the most important audition of his life, Gardner was happily walking the personality line. When asked which version of him was speaking with reporters, the future first-round pick didn't shy away.
"A little bit of both," Gardner said, grill glinting as he grinned.