The fate of the Jackson State football program changed on September 21, 2020. JSU Athletic Director Ashley Robinson has officially announced the hiring of Deion Sanders. Sanders, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was taking his talents to the SWAC as head coach for the first time.
On the eve of his two-year anniversary with the program, Sanders reflected on the changes he had seen at Jackson State (3-0, 1-0). It’s fitting that two years under Sanders came after a dominant 66-24 victory over Grambling State on Saturday. The second game of Sanders’ tenure began with a 33–28 win over Grambling State, JSU’s first win over its SWAC rival since November 3, 2012.
“These guys who are in our locker rooms now have a strong desire to take this to the next level,” Sanders said. “They take this sport seriously. They know this sport can save generations and bring wealth to generations. They’re serious about it, unlike when we first got here.”
“There was no seriousness. There was no sense of urgency. There was no desire to win and dominate. The people we’ve brought here have that. I’m proud of them. I’m not only proud of them, I am also proud of the coaching staff.”
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Sanders and the Tigers faced many challenges in their first years as the faces of Jackson State. His tenure began in 2021 with a rocky 4-3 spring football season. The Tigers’ final two games were cancelled; The COVID-19 issue within the Jackson State program caused Elcorn State to forfeit and the season finale against Prairie View A&M.
“I can’t count the first spring as a season,” Sanders said. “I didn’t know them. They didn’t know me. It’s like playing pickup football. There were some people in our locker room who probably didn’t know the shape of football and the nuances of the game. We did what we did.”
The trajectory of the program shifted substantially in the fall with Shadur Sanders at quarterback. The freshman helped lead the Tigers (11-2, 8-0) to their first SWAC championship and 11-win season since 2007.
Schedur was the first HBCU player to win the Jerry Rice Award for Top Freshman in FCS Football in December. He passed 256-377, completed 68% of his passes, as well as 29 touchdowns with six interceptions and 3,056 yards.
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Things continued to improve for “Coach Prime” as five-star recruit Travis Hunter was committed to Jackson State less than a week later. Hunter, 247Sports Composite No. 1 recruited nationally, immediately legitimized the forward momentum Dion brought to the program. The Tigers can be a destination for the country’s top talent.
Hunter appeared in JSU’s season-opening 59-3 win over Florida A&M, but missed out on Saturday’s 22-point win over Grambling State as well as the Southern Heritage Classic. Dion said fans “probably won’t” see the star freshman on Saturday.
The cornerback injury hasn’t affected Jackson State’s defense. The Tigers have allowed two offensive touchdowns in their first three games. However, Sanders still wants more from his team. An indication of how high the expectations have been in his first two years as head coach.
“We’re doing our best to keep the two halves of the continuity together,” Sanders said. “The word of the week is continuity and that is what we want to be.
“We didn’t get off to a good start,” he said. (We) often do poorly in the first half.”