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Deion Sanders’ role as Jackson State’s football coach could strengthen HBCU movement

Photo Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The rumors were swirling but now we know it’s officially “prime time” for Jackson State University’s (JSU) football program. The school announced on Monday that eight-time Pro Bowler, two-time Super Bowl champion, and NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders will become the school’s 21st head football coach.
“I am truly blessed to be the 21st Head football coach of Jackson State University,” Sanders said. “This amazing HBCU has always enjoyed a high level of commitment academically and athletically. It’s my desire to continue this storied tradition and history of JSU and prayerfully bring more national recognition to the athletes, the university, the Sonic Boom of the South, and HBCUs in general. I am TRULY proud to be a part of the JSU Tiger family. ‘I BELIEVE'”
“I am thrilled to welcome Deion Sanders to Jackson State University, the City of Jackson, and Mississippi,” JSU Vice President and Director of Athletics Ashley Robinson said. “Coach Sanders is student-athlete centered and cares about young men and their wellbeing beyond the football field. We expect to compete for and win championships at Jackson State, and Coach Sanders will help us achieve those goals.”

The hiring of such a high-profile former athlete could be a game changer for the school’s ability to attract more top recruits. Especially during a time when athletes are pushing for their counterparts to shift the dynamic of college sports by attending HBCUs instead of the typical Power 5 institutions.

Over the summer, a few highly rated players in basketball and football took the initial steps in what they are hoping will be a ‘HBCU Movement.’

First, Nate Tabor, a top basketball player from Queens withdrew his commitment from St. John’s to sign with Norfolk State University.

Makur Maker, a 6-foot-11 power forward, made history by becoming the highest ranked player in more than ten years to choose a HBCU when he dismissed offers from schools such as UCLA to attend Howard University.

Daniel Ingram, a star quarterback from Ohio who had signed a letter of intent to attend the University of Cincinnati, de-committed in favor of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

To further this point, there’s also speculation that Sanders’ son, Shedeur Sanders, a four-star quarterback, could join his father at JSU. If so, he would be de-committing from Florida Atlantic University.

During an appearance on Good Morning America, Deion shared that he’s praying that attending HBCUs will become a trend for young black athletes. He also mentioned that less than a day into the job he has already started recruiting high caliber players.

We sent out a bunch of offers to some of the best,” Sanders said. “We’re not recruiting low caliber kids. We’re recruiting the same kids as some of the major universities and we plan on landing them.

Not only will Sanders’ reputation play a role in athletes likely having an interest in playing for him, he also has the right connections. He played 14 NFL seasons for the Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Football Team, and Baltimore Ravens.

A two-time All-American at Florida State, Sanders was the first-round draft choice of the Atlanta Falcons in 1989. In 2020, for the NFL 100th Season, Sanders was named to the NFL All-Time Team. He is the only player to have played in a Super Bowl and a World Series.
While this is Sanders’ coaching debut on the collegiate sidelines, he has been coaching for over a decade. Sanders is the offensive coordinator at Trinity Christian School (TCC) in Cedar Hill, Texas, and has led the Tigers to three-straight Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools titles. Trinity Christian is 42-3 since Sanders has been the team’s offensive coordinator.
In 2019, the Sanders-led offense totaled 6126 yards of total offense and averaged 437.6 yards per game. TCC Quarterback Shedeur Sanders blossomed and accounted for 3477 passing yards and 47 touchdowns and only four interceptions. On the ground, Emari Matthews rushed for 1169 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Sanders is taking over a program with a strong history and tradition. The JSU football program sports a 462-302-15 overall record and a .603 winning percentage. The winning percentage ranks in the top 25 of all-time in NCAA Division I.

JSU has won 16 Southwestern Athletic Conference Championships, seven division championships, and three HBCU National Championships.

The Tigers have also produced 99 NFL draft picks, and 150 players have played professionally in the NFL. Among the most notable JSU alums are Walter Payton, Lem Barney, Jackie Slater, and Robert Brazile.

While it’s still too early to know if Deion can strengthen the movement by inspiring more recruits to attend HBCUs, there is no doubt that his presence will positively impact the talent that makes up the Jackson State Tigers football team.