Another veteran player is leaving the new-look Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Tailback Mike Saunders, the CFL team's second all-time leading rusher, announced his retirement Monday.

"Football -- it's great on Sundays but it's a terrible thing during the week," Saunders, 30, said at a news conference. "The nature of the game becomes so consuming that you get blinders on and you're blind to other opportunities."

Saunders is leaving to accept a job in Iowa City, Iowa, as a sales consultant with a medical supply company.

"When this presented itself, (wife) Heather and I made our decisions through much prayer and consideration," said Saunders, who earned a sociology degree at the University of Iowa before joining the Roughriders in 1992.

He and his wife are expecting their first baby in July.

"Last year was one of the most difficult in my career," said Saunders. "That was because I saw all the effort the players were giving.

"That didn't weigh into my decision though. At first, it didn't seem important that I was able to walk away on my own. Now I'm glad I made that choice."

Saunders, an eight-year CFL veteran who spent six seasons with Saskatchewan around stops with the San Antonio Texans, Montreal Alouettes, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts, rushed 1,160 times for 5,780 yards and 39 touchdowns.

He began his career with Saskatchewan before signing a free-agent pact with San Antonio in 1995. Saunders was dealt back to the Roughriders by the Toronto Argonauts in 1997, in exchange for two 1998 draft picks.

His Saskatchewan totals are 872 carries for 4,396 yards and 39 touchdowns. George Reed holds the team and CFL records with 3,243 carries for 16,116 yards and 134 touchdowns.

Despite being sidelined last season for the final four games with a broken foot, Saunders gained 971 yards and six touchdowns on 191 carries.

A receiver/tailback during his college career, Saunders was an excellent receiver coming out of the backfield. With 36 catches for 348 yards and four touchdowns last season, he finished his career with 332 receptions for 3,908 yards and 33 touchdowns.

New head coach Danny Barrett and general manager Roy Shivers wanted Saunders to be their starting tailback this year, so his retirement will cause some last-minute scrambling.

"We were going to challenge everybody, even Mike," Shivers said. "Now this opens it up for the young guys and I guess I better find another running back."

Saunders joins a growing list of players not returning from last year's 3-15 squad, including linebackers Dan Rashovich and Willie Pless, defensive backs Doug Craft, Kelly Malveaux, Todd McMillon, Shannon Garrett and Curtis Galick, defensive lineman Nelson Van Waes, receivers Reggie Jones and Don Narcisse, quarterback Reggie Slack and fullback Shawn Daniels.

"Those guys are very good players and some of them were good leaders," said guard Gene Makowsky, a five-year veteran.

"Leadership is something you can't draft and you can't sign. "Mike was a team leader. Everybody liked him. All the things being a leader entails, that's Mike Saunders."

With free-agent acquisition Henry Burris expected to start at quarterback, returnees Chris Szarka, Kennedy Nkeyasen and Mike Maurer will vie for the non-import spot vacated by Daniels.

Ricky Whittle, who replaced Saunders for four games late last season, will be challenged at tailback by newcomers Dione Tyler and Steve Wofford.

(Regina Leader-Post)