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Deion Sanders era begins at JacksonState University this Sunday as the spring football season starts (9391 hits)

This is not your grandfather’s Jackson State football team. But new Tigers head football coach Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders wishes it were.

Those were the days when the best NFL prospects came from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) – when Jackson State sent guys such as Walter Payton to the Chicago Bears, Lem Barney to the Detroit Lions and Harold Jackson to the Los Angeles Rams.

In the years before full integration, Black colleges were the only places a promising Black player could go to reach his full potential in sports. In this new world order – prompted by a mix of renewed social activism amid the Black Lives Matter movement and a more critical look at the inequities of the multibillion-dollar college sports complex – top-flight Black players are now looking seriously at HBCUs.

So, who better to lead this movement than Sanders, the only man to professionally hit a home run and get a touchdown in the same seven-day period (1989); the only person to suit up on the same day for two professional teams (1992) (Note: He did not actually play in the baseball game); and the only person to play in a Super Bowl and a World Series.

The bright lights, the hoopla, the “Prime Time” is in full force in Jackson, Mississippi.

“This is what we bring to the table,” Sanders said this week in a Zoom interview. “That’s something that’s always traveled with me. That’s something that has always been a part of me in every sport, in every aspect of my life. So, why not here?

“It’s going to be like that, and the kids understand,” he added.

Despite potential distractions, Sanders makes it clear what he wants from his players. “Right now, the goal is to be smart, tough, fast and disciplined – each game, each practice, each day.

“We try to achieve three out of those four,” he added. “The ultimate goal is four out of four, but three out of the four is the thing that we’re trying to achieve on a daily basis.”

Sanders said he also expects his players “to dominate not only on the field but also in the classroom.”

Step one occurs Sunday at 2 p.m. ET, when the Tigers (4-8 last season) take their home field against Edward Waters College out of Jacksonville, Florida. Neither Sanders nor fans will see the full impact of his recruiting class until the fall, because some recruits played high school or college ball in the fall and are ineligible for the spring season.

Late in the week, Sanders still had not decided who would start at quarterback: sophomore Jalon Jones or redshirt freshman Quincy Casey. The competition was continuing, he said.

Sanders is hesitant to point out potential stars, but the team returns the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) preseason player of the year, junior Keonte Hampton, at linebacker. But preseason All-SWAC senior running back Keshawn Harper is no longer with the team.

Sanders confirmed reports that the defense looks to be further ahead than the offense but says that’s exactly how he wants it to be. But he said that in the spring, with the insertion of some of the new recruits, the two units will be closer in terms of talent level.

For most observers, that’s a nod toward Sanders’ son, Shedeur Sanders, a four-star recruit who changed his commitment from Florida Atlantic to Jackson State after Sanders’ hiring.

Sanders’ older son, Shilo, who played defensive back for South Carolina in 2020, will also make his Tigers debut in fall 2021.

Shedeur Sanders, who says he will use this season mainly as an observer to get used to the speed of the game as he transitions from high school to college, has schooled his teammates on how to survive the Coach Prime School of Hard Knocks.

“Just, do your job,” Shedeur Sanders said. “Just execute. He expects you to go above and beyond. He expects wins. Be a dog, really.”

CJ Holmes, a senior defensive back who recorded two interceptions and 28 tackles in an All-SWAC season in 2019, said the defense will mirror the mindset – and the confidence, it seems – of the coaches.

“We’re going to be fast, smart, tough and disciplined, and we’re going to be flying around doing our jobs,” Holmes said. “We’re going to be one of the best defenses in the conference – and in college football, really.”

Holmes said the defense is growing quickly, thanks to coaches such as defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman, a veteran NFL player and coach.

“We’re learning that everybody has a role,” Holmes said. “Everybody can’t be superman and play every position. We’re just growing as a team.”

Sanders sees his program’s mission as impacting athletics far beyond Jackson State and the SWAC. He knows he is pushing the envelope to get HBCUs to go after the top football talent with the expectation that they will be taken seriously.

“The impact could be phenomenal with the exposure of the documentary,” Sanders said. “It can change the culture. It can change lives. …

“It could put a flashlight on what’s been so prominent and so consistent for decades.”

He said the impact is already being felt in that Jackson State’s six spring games are scheduled to be carried on ESPN3 or ESPNU, which can have an impact financially.

He expects more of the same, or even more, in the fall.

Original story at https://theundefeated.com/features/deion-sanders-and-jackson-state-primed-to-open-their-season-sunday/
Posted By: Reggie Culpepper
Friday, February 19th 2021 at 12:29PM
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