Few people on the college football scene these days are making more headlines than Jackson State’s Deion Sanders. Win or lose, and so far his teams have mostly posted victories, Sanders name and statements are always front and center. It certainly helps that a team which was 4-8 in its last season before Sanders’ arrival has been 17-5 since he became head coach going into last weekend’s games. Jackson State was once fortunate if their scores were even carried in local papers. But now their games are being covered by writers and columnists across the country.
Over the last two weeks, Sanders has been a guest on the nationally syndicated television sports talk shows of Dan Patrick and Rich Eisen. He’s also been mentioned as a candidate for coaching positions at Georgia Tech, Arizona State and Auburn. His son, Jackson State QB Shedeur Sanders not only has a lucrative name, image and likeness personal services contract, he’s even beginning to attract some attention as a Heisman Trophy candidate, albeit a longshot one. No HBCU player or for that matter small college player has ever won a Heisman or even come close. Jerry Rice and Steve McNair did actually get some votes during their time in the 80s and ‘90s rspectively, though neither finished in the top five.
Still, Shedur Sanders and his teammate defensive back Travis Hunter are the kind of top echelon high school Black athletes HBCUs have seldom been able to recruit since the Power 5 and predominantly white colleges began full scale integration. That Deion Sanders has been able to land them at Jackson State is a testament to his popularity and still immense reputation dating back to his days as not only a Hall of Fame football player but a solid Major League Baseball player as well. he remains the only athlete to be on both a World Series winner and a Super Bowl champion.
Sanders also isn’t afraid to speak his mind on many issues. He’s both expressed anger and dismay at the ongoing water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi and also voiced his support and sympathy for Hurricane Ian victims in Florida. He told Sports Illustrated last week he was disgusted and disappointed by what he sees as a double standard that the NFL has regarding the quality of athletes and teams on the HBCU level.”It’s nice to be mentioned,” Sanders said. “So you’re saying a guy can come from HBCUs and coach at a higher level, but a quarterback shouldn’t be considered at the next level. I don’t know how that works.”
Of course not everyone is enamored of Sanders. The website Deadspin was critical of his friendships with Nick Saban, right-wing GOP senator Cindy Hyde-Smith and currently center of controversy former QB Brett Favre, in the midst of a state scandal in Mississippi over the alleged misuse of welfare and charity funds.
Also there have long been those in HBCU circles who feel Sanders is simply using Jackson State as a stepping stone to a Power 5 job. Only time will tell how accurate those feelings are, but one thing cannot be denied: Deion Sanders has helped put Jackson State, and by extension HBCU football, very much in the spotlight since becoming a head coach.