When Jackson State head coach and NFL Hall-of-Famer Deion Sanders persuaded the nation’s top recruit Travis Hunter to switch from Florida State to his school, many thought this was just an aberration, that because Hunter played the same position (defensive back) as Sanders that he’d made a decision which many other top players wouldn’t. HBCUs in the post-integration era have seldom gotten the top Black players, as they usually choose Power 5 schools for a variety of reasons. These range from the prime time television exposure given those schools to the feeling that they better prepare college players for the pros.
But what have termed the “Sanders effect” was evident once more last week with the announcement by the nation’s top junior college quarterback Jamari Jones that he was attending Mississippi Valley instead of Ole Miss or Mississippi State. Jones is the prime signing among the 16 players recruited by Vincent Dancy in his bid to return the team to their glory days when Willie Totten and Jerry Rice were lighting up the record books.
Interestingly, Totten is now the quarterbacks coach at Mississippi Valley. He’s also a member of both the College and Black College Football Halls of Fame. He’ll be entrusted with helping get Jones ready for a shot at the NFL. However it wasn’t Totten’s presence at Mississippi Valley that was the big selling point for Jones. No it was the impact of Sanders, which Jones acknowledged during a press conference. “Don’t Ask Me Why (Mississippi) Valley. just watch this,” Jones told a national audience of top football writers. “Like Deion Said, Let’s Level The Playing Field.”
Mississippi Valley has fallen off since its heyday. This past season they had a 4-7 record, nothing to brag about, but their best since 2012. Dancy has pledged that he’ll get the school back on track. “We just want to recruit kids that want to be at Mississippi Valley State,” Dancy told HBCU Gameday. “At the end of the day, we got a bunch of young men that’s out there looking for a home. And I think Mississippi Valley is a great home for a lot of young men if they really want to play football.”
Jones’ credentials are legitimate. As the QB this season at East Mississippi Community College he passed for 2,728 yards and 33 touchdowns. He’s expected to be the centerpiece in Dancy’s revitalization program at Mississippi Valley. Given the interest in both Hunter and Jones, this may also help their schools and by extension other HBCUs get more coverage on major broadcasting stations.
ESPN U and ESPN + already carries lots of HBCU football and basketball. But with two of the nation’s finest high school players going to HBCUs, perhaps ESPN, even ABC and CBS might start thinking about airing some of the games next season featuring Hunter and Jones, and also spotlight such conferences as the SWAC and MEAC.
But whether that happens or not, it’s clear that Deion Sanders has had a positive impact on recruiting for HBCUs, one that will hopefully continue for years to come.