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  • Sunday, September 24, 2023


Ready For An Encore? Jackson St. Recruiting Class Hits The Stratosphere In Talent And Power


By Gordon Jackson

Leave it to Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders to keep the college football conversation red hot after the season has concluded. He was even competing against the ultra-high verbiage surrounding the NFL, on the eve of Super Bowl XVI.

Sanders, as requested, served on one of the coaching staffs in Las Vegas for the Pro Bowl (one of two HBCU coaches on staff, along with Morgan State’s William Carr). It gave the former NFL Pro-Bowler a chance to give his perspective on the way the All-Star game is played today.

Sanders tweeted, “I remember when we were so proud and appreciative of that accolade. We went to Hawaii (former regular site of the Pro Bowl) to prove we were more than worthy, so we competed at practice and in the game. I wanted you to know that PRIME was PRIME? What happened and when?”

Usually, Sanders’ opinion would be met with a grain of salt by the football world and the public in general. Today, it’s solid gold and people are listening, as both the mainstream and African American sports communities hang on to his every word. Which is very understandable, taking in what he has accomplished over the past 18 months as Jackson State University’s head football coach.

Sanders’ accomplishments in the 2021 season rang loud and clear, compiling an 11-2 season record and capturing the SWAC football title. His team’s 31-10 upset loss to South Carolina State in the Celebration Bowl is expected to be just a speed bump toward much greater things.

That’s because Coach Prime roared like a lion with his 2022 recruiting class, easily ranked by sports analysts as the best in SWAC and all of HBCU football. Only Grambling State’s class, considered a distant 2nd, followed by Alabama A&M’s, came anywhere near close.

Sander’s high-profile endeavors is keeping the rest of HBCU football awake at nights on how to just keep up.

“Grambling, Florida A&M and other schools have to level up to keep pace with the Tigers,” said Jean-Jacques Taylor of The Undefeated, ESPN’s official platform of addressing issues and news in the African American community.

The speculations are running deep with how Jackson State’s lineup will look for 2022. Quarterback Shedeur Sanders, the SWAC’s Freshman of the Year, may have not just one, but two (or more) wicked weapons to pass to, in the names of Travis Hunter, the country’s No. 1 rated 5-star high school athlete in the country and Kevin Coleman Jr., a 4-star wide receiver from St. Louis, MO.

Hunter comes as a two-way performer, who can potentially play – and excel – on the defensive side of the ball as well. Coach Prime continues to add depth to his lineup with the signings of QB John Paul Andrade (La Verne, CA), linebacker Frank Burgess (Pahokee, FL) and linebacker Shauntavis Vardaman (Hazlehurst, MS). Jackson State has also beefed up their offensive line with guard Jasper Friis, a 6-7 330-pound junior college standout out of Iowa Central Community College, via San Bernardino, California.

As an indication to Coach Prime’s influence, no less than 15 of his 20-plus recruits are transfers, having previously committed to other schools. That posesses a look at other members of Jackson State’s 2021 recruiting class, including cornerback Da’Jahn Warren from Lackawanna Community College and defensive lineman LaTron Evans (Baltimore, MD).

But watch out! Lurking over Sanders’ shoulders (or at least trying to) are the other SWAC programs, feverishly determined to catch up. That’s emulated over at Grambling State, with new head coach Hue Jackson, who signed a school-record 36 players, including Kajiya Hollawayne, a four-star quarterback, who transferred from UCLA, along with fellow transfers, receiver Ja’ron Waters (Southern Utah) and running back Maurice Washington (Nebraska).

On the coaching side, Southern University drew Eric Dooley away from SWAC championship finalists Prairie View A&M to send a strong message about their plans to return to championship status.

It can’t be avoided to say: this is the effect Sanders is having on HBCU football. He’s also making a dent in the NCAA Division I circuit, have pulled once-assured signees to his "neighborhood."

And what a neighborhood it will stand out to be. Many more eyeballs will be on HBCU football, as they begin to receive the attention once deprived unjustifiably.

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Gordon Jackson
NOIRE Contributor

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