Sauce Gardner speaks at Jets rookie camp on Friday, May 6,...

Sauce Gardner speaks at Jets rookie camp on Friday, May 6, 2022. Credit: Pablo Garcia Corradi


The surprise gift for Mom? Well, that will remain a surprise until just the right moment.

“She was probably expecting something right after [the draft],” Jets first-round cornerback Sauce Gardner said. “But me and my brother [Allante] are going to surprise her with something. We don’t want her to know when it’s coming. Either way, she’s going to be astonished. She’s going to be so happy.”

Gardner wants nothing more than for his mom, Alisa Gardner, to be happy. And now that he has made it to the NFL, he has the chance to show his gratitude in a material way to thank her for all of the sacrifices she made while the family grew up in Detroit.

Alisa was a single mom who worked several jobs providing for Ahmad — who would be nicknamed “A1 Sauce Sweet Feet Gardner” by his youth football coach and later, just “Sauce” — and Allante and sister Alexis.

She never complained about the work, but Sauce knew the sacrifice. And now it’s time to give back.

“She meant the world to me, just seeing her always work multiple jobs,” said Gardner, who suited up for the first time with his new team at this weekend’s rookie minicamp. “She worked at a plant where mostly men worked. Just seeing her put that work in so she could provide for her children. That meant the most.”

It was not an easy time for the family, and Sauce and his older siblings sometimes went without. But Alisa always did her best.

“Growing up, I couldn’t get the things I wanted, but she always made something happen,” he said. “So I’m in a position where we could flip-flop. Now I can make anything happen for her. That’s a tribute to God.”

One dream is about to come true for Gardner, who now has the means to give back to his mom after sighing his four-year rookie contract on Saturday. The deal reportedly is worth $38.7 million and includes a $25.3 million signing bonus.

The other dream? That one will take some time, like maybe a dozen years or so. It’s the dream about creating the kind of NFL legacy that he hopes will approach that of the greatest cornerback in Jets history.

One dream is about to come true for Gardner, who will now give back to his mom. The other? That one will take some time. Like, maybe a dozen years or so. It’s the dream about creating the kind of NFL legacy that he hopes will approach that of the greatest cornerback in Jets history.

It’s a lot to ask to become the next Darrelle Revis, but Gardner hopes he is up to the challenge. Revis will go into the Hall of Fame in the not-too-distant future, and Gardner would love to join him in Canton someday — even if he acknowledges that “it’s still square one for me.”

“He was a great player, and I enjoyed watching him,” Gardner said. “I haven’t been able to meet him yet, but that’s on my bucket list. Everybody looks at him so highly, and that’s kind of how I want to be when I retire. I enjoy being a Jet already, and I know the future is real bright for me, and I can’t wait.”

Neither can coach Robert Saleh, who was overjoyed when the Jets selected the former Cincinnati Bearcats star with the fourth overall pick. Saleh began his first telephone call with Gardner after the Jets told him he was their choice, and the coach screamed, “Saaaaauuuuuuccce!!” into the phone.

Gardner loved it. “It made me feel I was wanted,” he said. “I really felt wanted, not only from the coaching staff but the rest of the organization and the fans. The fans have welcomed me with open arms.”

Saleh immediately will entrust Gardner with the duties of a shutdown cornerback, although the Jets will be playing a fair amount of zone defense as well. Either way, in Gardner, the second-year coach thinks he has the perfect blend of athleticism and intelligence.

“Corner is very important, because it’s everything we talk about on third down and in crunch time when the whole world knows you’re passing the ball and the whole other side of the world knows you’re in man coverage and it’s a one-on-one football game. That’s difference-making,’’ Saleh said. “Sauce has the ability to do that in man coverage, but he has his zone coverage ability, he has tenacity in tackling.”

Saleh referenced former Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, whom Saleh coached as an assistant on Pete Carroll’s staff.

“[Sherman] knew the play as soon as they broke the huddle,” Saleh said. “So he barely had to play football. If his GPS ever reached over 16 miles per hour, it was a rough day for him. Sauce has a tremendous mental makeup to him that allows him to see the game differently than what most players can.”

Now comes the adjustment to the highest level of the sport.

“It’s still square one for me at the same time,” Gardner said. “I still feel like I have a lot to prove. It felt like when I first got to Cincinnati my freshman year. I still have that same mindset, same mentality. I don’t think I’m too good for anybody. I like being a sponge.

“I just want to soak up as much information as I can from those [Jets veterans] and be the best teammate that I can be.”

And there’s just one other thing about Gardner over and above his athletic gifts. There’s an unmistakable charisma he possesses, born of confidence and a joie de vivre about the sport he loves. You’ll see it on game day immediately.

And if he can master the NFL game as he has done throughout his football career — at Cincinnati, he didn’t give up a single touchdown — then maybe, just maybe, Sauce Gardner can be mentioned in the same breath as Darrelle Revis.

But first things first: a very happy Mother’s Day in the Gardner household.


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