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STUDENT ATHLETES

Coach Prime & Jackson State: The Story So Far

His Tigers are off to a solid 4-1 start, but Deion Sanders’ impact in Jackson extends far beyond the football field.

Fresh off a 61-15 beatdown of Alabama A&M, Jackson State will attempt to avenge another loss from earlier this spring season on Saturday against the Alabama State Hornets. But the game has even more meaning than that — it’ll be Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders‘ first homecoming game. 

“Coach Prime” didn’t get a chance to coach or celebrate what should have been his first homecoming contest because he was hired in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, delaying his start from Fall 2020 until Spring 2021. That first season was mediocre, with the Tigers finishing 4-3 and losing their final three games before accepting a forfeit from Alcorn State.

This time around, JSU is 4-1 and one of three teams undefeated in SWAC conference play. And Sanders’ role in helping make it all happen extends in all directions.

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Over the summer, Sanders put together the No. 1 recruiting class in FCS football — one that even topped FBS schools with athletic budgets that dwarf Jackson State’s. The Tigers have Florida A&M, Eddie George’s Tennessee State, Delta State, and Alabama A&M so far, with their only loss coming against Louisiana Monroe by a score of 12-7. In that game, the Tigers’ defense did not allow a touchdown, though turnovers eventually cost them the game. 

All told, Jackson State has already matched its win total from last year with plenty of time to spare, but he’s accomplished much more than his record indicates. That includes:

Recruiting. Without playing a season of football, Sanders brought in the best recruiting class in the FCS and the No. 55 overall class by 247Sports. Those rankings should only get better if Sanders and Jackson State continue to win.

Media Exposure. A university spokesperson told USA Today in April that Sanders had generated $185 million in advertising value and exposure for Jackson State. That number has almost certainly grown since then.

NIL Deals. Multiple members of the Jackson State football team are making money on name, image, and likeness. Defensive end Antwan Owens signed a deal with Black-owned hair product business 3 Kings Grooming, Sanders’ son Sheduer inked a pact with Beats by Dre, and Michael Strahan outfitted the entire team with custom-made suits from Men’s Wearhouse.

Jersey Names. After beating Florida A&M in the opening week of the season, Sanders made it a point in his postgame press conference to emphasize the want for his student-athletes to have names on their jerseys. He, alongside his business manager Constance Morini-Schwartz, offered to pay for the entire SWAC to put names on team jerseys. They have yet to take him up on his offer.

Improvements on Campus. Jackson State has announced phase one of its comprehensive athletics facilities upgrade. The first part of the four-part plan is to upgrade the Lee E. Williams Athletics & Assembly Center, the JSU Practice Pavillion, and an outdoor track that will be next to the Walter Payton Health & Recreation Center. HBCU Gameday reported Sanders’ friends have made large contributions to the fund. 

Jackson State’s homecoming game against Alabama State kicks off at 3 p.m. ET on ESPN+.

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