When Jackson State athletics director Ashley Robinson told school President Thomas Hudson that he was going after Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders to become head football coach, Hudson was all in.
He realized the impact that a person of Deion’s stature, football experience, charisma and knowledge could have on a program that, like most HBCU programs, was treading water.
Sanders’ announcement met with great fanfare and media hype, but there were also those pundits and shock jocks who questioned the move and believed it wouldn’t work.
They questioned Deion’s lack of experience at the college level and his dedication to building an HBCU program with all of the financial and cultural challenges that come with the job.
Building An Empire
Thus far, the union of Sanders and Jackson State is looking like a match made in heaven.
During his introductory press conference, Sanders stressed the importance of his commitment to excellence in anything and everything he does. He came out of the gate with the audacity to dream big and create a new culture at Jackson State while uplifting the prospects and possibilities for Black college football.
“We’re going to win,” Sanders proclaimed with the same confidence that fueled his legendary NFL career. “We’re going to look good while we win, and we’re going to have a good time while we win.”
Those words seemed to resonate through the halls of the Lee E. Williams Athletics and Assembly Center and throughout the JSU Practice Pavilion and Walter Payton Health and Recreation Center.
— Brad Hoiseth (@BradHoiseth) September 22, 2020
During Sanders’ introductory presser, both Robinson and Hudson talked about the power move to bring in the man that has become known as Coach Prime.
Hudson said it was a “grace of God” hiring.
“These things just come together,” Hudson said. “We’re so very fortunate, really fortunate to be in this space and to have a man, someone like this joining us.”
Robinson piggybacked Sanders’ sentiments about winning at a high level.
“We expect to compete for and win championships at Jackson State, and coach Sanders will help us achieve our goals.”
Sanders Hasn’t Let Jackon State Down
After the 2020 fall SWAC season was canceled, Sanders began his first season as Tigers head coach during the SWAC’s abbreviated spring season. The Tigers went 4-3, but Sanders wasn’t satisfied and refused to use the many challenges presented by COVID-19 as an excuse.
He just took the time to make his team better for the 2021 season, his first full season at the helm. The Tigers hit the road running, winning their first SWAC championship since 2007. They also participated in the Celebration Bowl, a de facto Black college football championship game played in Atlanta which featured the SWAC champion versus MEAC champion.
Sanders is no dummy, and he knows in order to win and compete consistently for championships and shake the false belief that HBCUs don’t have pro talent, then he must recruit at a high level. That’s what he did with his 2021 and 2022 class. The Tigers’ 2021 class ranked 55th nationally, the highest ranking ever for an HBCU or FCS program.
But 2021 was just a peek into what Sanders could do on the recruiting trail. In 2022, he did the unthinkable by getting the nation’s top-ranked recruit Travis Hunter to flip from Coach Prime’s alma mater, Florida State. The move sent shock waves throughout the sport, but Sanders wasn’t done. He worked social media and used his influence and incomparable résumé to attract another top-50 recruit in Kevin Coleman, plus 17 impact transfers, including four former four-star recruits.
After securing the best recruiting class in HBCU history @DeionSanders is looking for a few more good men to join the JSU movement. Deion has Power 5 monopoly coaches like Nick Saban scared to death. No bag of cash just the gift of gab and promise to be developed and seen. pic.twitter.com/E99dJwedAy
— LA MAQUINA DE SOMBRAS (@FANalyst1) May 24, 2022
In addition to winning, he’s become a personal crusader for the HBCU cause, while helping to raise the city of Jackson’s revenue and making Saturdays during football season a nationwide attraction.
Heading Into Year 3, Sanders Continues To Elevate HBCU Football: Visibility, Exposure Revenue Accrued
As HBCU football embarks on the 2022 college football season, the effects of Deion Sanders on the HBCU landscape continues to come into full focus. In April there were four HBCU players drafted after getting shut out of the draft a year prior. Sanders campaigned passionately to co-sign the level of HBCU talent and bring NFL recruiters to organized combines to see the best Black college football had to offer.
As of today, all four picks are in line to make their team’s roster. Plus, there were a record 24 players who signed minicamp and training camp deals. In addition, there’s a handful of them still vying to make an NFL roster as the start of the season is a week away.
That’s a direct result of increased exposure and visibility that Deion has sparked. His influence has led to deals with broadcast services such as ESPN and new media outlets such as mogul Byron Allen’s new venture “HBCUGo,” a streaming service with nothing but HBCU football coverage.
Throw in the endorsement deals with Pepsi, Gillette and Cricket, and new football facilities being built. That’s all a product of Sanders’ magic. He’s not only raised the bar at JSU, but he’s shared the love with those schools and administrations willing to work toward a team goal.
Much Love !!!!! https://t.co/k46YUp33EL
— COACH PRIME (@DeionSanders) August 27, 2022
Sanders has proven that he is on a special mission at JSU. Anyone doubting his initial intentions have put a muzzle on the criticisms, especially after he reportedly turned down several Power Five opportunities to finish his breakfast at Jackson State.
A Family Affair
Deion has made his transition to head coach and HBCU ambassador a family affair, which is further indication of his dedication to the mission. His sons Shedeur and Shilo play for him, and daughter Shelomi plays for the women’s basketball team. He’s even brought his two oldest kids into the mix, as Deion Jr. and Deiondra are both working with the program in some capacity.
While the progress is evident, JSU’s road to success has not been openly received by some coaches across the country who see Deion changing the game a bit too quickly.
Some legendary Power Five coaches who are used to calling shots without having to make adjustments forced on by worldbeaters like Coach Prime have shown their fears and greed by bashing Sanders’ use of the very NIL deals that Power Five schools have used to dish out millions to acquire talent.
While the outspoken Sanders has been an opponent of the NIL, he’s also said on many occasions he’s for it if executed fairly and correctly. But he’s also quick to say players need to focus on playing at the next level and not the money that can be earned through NIL deals before ever taking a snap on the field.
On the field is where the fruits of Deion’s labor as a head coach is truly judged. In addition to the massive talent upgrade, he’s secured the services of an entirely new and innovative coaching staff with pro experience.
Year 3 for Sanders in Jackson, Mississippi, kicks off this weekend with a visit to South Florida to take on FAMU Rattlers in the Orange Blossom Classic.
When’s the last time an HBCU program has been such a highly anticipated ticket this early in the season?