In 2021, under the focused direction of Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, the Jackson State Tigers reached unprecedented heights on the gridiron. The HBCU school turned heads in the SWAC and across FCS football.
Two seasons ago, nobody talked about the fading Black college program in Jackson, Mississippi. They talked about the crime rate in the city. Now JSU has risen to a level where they are the No. 1 draw in HBCU football and even have spring games scheduled on ESPN.
The leader on the field was a true freshman quarterback, Shedeur Sanders, the youngest son of Coach Prime. At the time of his commitment (after decommitting from Florida Atlantic) Sanders, a four-star prospect in the 2021 recruiting cycle, was the highest-rated player to ever commit to JSU.
Shedeur was very good in Year One, leading the Tigers to their first-ever 11-win season, first SWAC title in 14 seasons and a trip to the Celebration Bowl. In the process, Sanders took home the Jerry Rice Award, given annually to the top freshman in FCS.
Blessed🙏 only the beginning pic.twitter.com/vO1oJLHTEK
— Shedeur Sanders (@ShedeurSanders) September 15, 2021
He was also named SWAC Freshman of the Year, in a season where he tallied over 3,000 yards passing, 29 touchdowns and just six interceptions. His 68 percent completion percentage was tops in the SWAC and one of the best in all of FCS. But he tailed off at season’s end, struggling in both the SWAC title game and Celebration Bowl, completing under 50 percent of his passes and tossing three interceptions.
Coach Prime felt he needed to upgrade his offense, and he did just that by hiring Brett Bartolone, an offensive guru from Nevada. He’ll be tasked with continuing Shedeur’s development and elevating the potency of JSU’s offense.
As spring practices progress, Shedeur seems to be grasping the nuances of the new offense Bartolone is implementing. Following the team’s open practice last weekend Shedeur gave some insight on how his relationship with his new OC is going.
“[The pairing with Bartolone feels] like it’s a perfect match. It’s something that challenged me and that I needed. I feel like under Coach Brett I’m growing a lot and improving just every week in and week out.
“I feel like I’ve grown a lot from last season to this season. I’ve got a year under my belt. Now everything’s based off of leverages, learning, and just talking the game with him.”
New Offense Will Prepare Shedeur For NFL: Much Quicker Reads And Decisions
Coach Prime talked about last season’s offense being good but not explosive enough for him. He felt that they had to grind their way to wins too often. Switching play-callers midseason didn’t help continuity, but ultimately the slow-developing offense didn’t cut it.
In addition, Coach Prime knows his son needs to put up insane numbers at Jackson State to become a serious NFL draft prospect at the game’s most competitive position. Shedeur has to prove that he can efficiently and accurately accelerate the ball downfield in succession.
Sanders wanted more of what he witnessed NFL prospect Aqeel Glass do in Alabama A&M’s up-tempo spread scheme. One that protects the quarterback and offensive line with quick, decisive throws and utilizes the running backs in the passing game.
Jackson St QB Shedeur Sanders has thrown 3 1st-half TDs as the Tigers are cruising vs AAMU 33-7 at the half.
📺 ESPN+ pic.twitter.com/rYrJuw4o2z
— Andscape (@andscape) October 9, 2021
The Tigers were blitzed 31-10 in the Celebration Bowl by South Carolina State because they couldn’t protect Shedeur and had no quick reads to slow the oncoming pass rush. Bartolone will push the envelope with Shedeur at the helm, expect quick-hitting and deep shots.
JSU’s lineman won’t be asked to sustain blocks for extended periods of time. At Nevada, Bartolone helped turn Carson Strong into an NFL prospect, and the Wolfpack averaged 35.7 points per game.
Sanders had his pick of very capable offensive minds, but the thing that sold him on Bartolone is how quickly Nevada’s Strong got rid of the ball in his “Air Raid” spread scheme. Strong released the rock in 2.5 seconds on the average, which is Kurt Warner, Dan Marino, Tom Brady fast. That kind of efficiency will elevate JSU’s band of playmakers to another level on offense.
Sanders Will Be SWAC Player of the Year Favorite: Tigers Will Be SWAC Favorites
The Tigers are now the hunted after last season’s magical run. Opposing teams already had a problem with all of the media attention JSU received. The target on their back has grown. Sanders’ squad will be under tremendous pressure to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke.
For starters, Shedeur will likely be picked as preseason Player of the Year favorite. JSU will be the favorite to repeat as conference champions. Sanders doesn’t have many excuses for a dropoff. He recruited like a Power Five school, flipping two Top 50 recruits and adding that crop of talent to incumbent playmakers such as 6-foot-5 wide receiver Malachi Wideman, who had 12 touchdown receptions. Coach Prime also hit the transfer portal with purpose and secured more speed and offensive talent from there.
The @GoJSUTigersFB are lighting it up now!
Shedeur Sanders finds Malachi Wideman for their fourth touchdown connection on the day🔥pic.twitter.com/uW5HiiXsUB
— Andscape (@andscape) October 23, 2021
JSU could be the talk of college football again, but the key to everything is the strong-armed Shedeur’s ability to take his game to the next level.