The new Colorado Buffaloes quarterback and son of “Coach Prime” speaks with Boardroom about TB12, the challenge ahead in Boulder, signing the perfect brand deal, and more.
As Shedeur Sanders walks into a back room of the Dick’s Sporting Goods House of Sport in Knoxville, Tennessee, he’s strutting. Whether you’re familiar with who he is or entirely uninitiated, it’s easy to tell he was having a good day. He is smiling, joking, and making everyone laugh even when he is not trying to.
The new Colorado Buffaloes quarterback was in town for Tom Brady’s BRADY Brand athletic fashion line, a company he endorses. On March 25, I was there in Knoxville to moderate a panel featuring Sanders before the signal-caller led a masterclass featuring youth from the Knoxville community.
As expected, he’s outfitted in BRADY Brand, sporting the limited edition seven rings coaches jacket that features Brady holding up his seven rings on the upper back of the jacket. When Sanders walks out to see the BRADY Brand portion of the store, to his surprise he is greeted by a picture of himself modeling the brand.
“I had seen this before but I was wondering what location it was at. That’s nice for real,” Sanders said to a friend as he posed beside a poster featuring himself decked out in the NFL GOAT’s namesake apparel.
“I’m excited to be here. I like doing stuff like this because it reminds me of when I was a kid,” Sanders, son of Hall of Famer and new Colorado head coach Deion Sanders, said before the discussion. “At the end of the day you really never know who you could meet or who you could be playing with down the line.” (Tom Brady himself can attest to this, as he played across generations in facing fathers and sons like Ed McCaffrey and Christian McCaffrey or Devin Bush Sr. and Devin Bush Jr.)
In Sanders’ case, some of the kids he plays with on Saturday could be catching his passes — or trying to sack him — on Sundays, and NFL weekends are clearly on his mind. The day of the event in Knoxville marks the beginning of his spring break, gifting him a week away from his new home in Boulder. After the event wraps, he’s headed to Miami, but not to party. Rather, the former Jackson State University standout all about training to get himself to the next level. As he goes through his bookbag looking for a phone charger, he pulls out his playbook. “Gotta stay locked in,” he said with a smile.
When it is time for him to speak on behalf of BRADY Brand he is cooler and calmer than his mere 21 years of age ought to suggest.
Outside of TB12 himself, Sanders is currently the premier representative for the apparel label. His relationship with Tom Brady goes back a couple of years when he and the future Hall of Famer and Fox NFL analyst met and trained. At the time, Brady was still in the early stages of building out what became BRADY Brand; he happened to be wearing a prototype for the line that day. Sanders keen eye for fashion and liked what he saw, so he asked the seven-time Super Bowl champion to send him some merch.
Months later, in Jan. 2022 Sanders would be part of BRADY Brand’s official launch. Later, in September 2022, he came on full-time as the brand’s first-ever individual athlete signing through a groundbreaking name, image, and likeness deal.
University of Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton was also supposed to be part of the panel conversation, but due to a scheduling conflict, he wasn’t able to make it. The show must go on, of course, so the discussion and the masterclass continued apace. Sanders handled the talk portion himself, answering questions on a multitude of topics ranging from time management and building a strong work ethic to choosing the right school, managing NIL obligations, and what he expects in the season to come after making the jump from an HBCU playing FCS ball to a flagship state school in the Pac-12.
One of the two most notable responses Sanders gave related to the relationship he sees between brand-building and keeping a sharp appearance.
“Me and my pops always talk about this: You have to be clean. To me, it doesn’t matter what you look like but you just have to be clean,” he said, echoing Deion Sanders’ iconic look good, feel good, play good mantra. “At the same time, there will be some brands that want a certain type of person and you have to find what fits you and who’s going to accept you for who you are.”
True to form, in addition to BRADY Brand, Sanders has found himself increasingly keen about seeking out and securing partnerships with powerhouse companies like Beats by Dre, Gatorade, and Mercedes-Benz that speak directly to his tastes. In that same spirit, he also tells the young athletes and parents in the crowd to work smart just as much as they work hard.
“I think I was able to get ahead because I listened a lot. Preparation at the quarterback position starts in the mind, and so I study a lot of film. I’m in the weight room, too, but I’m not in there like an offensive or defensive lineman. You have to be just as smart as you are skilled,” he said.
When Joe Milton managed to arrive, he joined Sanders for the masterclass that saw the two quarterbacks coaching the young attendees through a number of different football drills, and while Sanders draws a crowd, Milton is a hometown hero to both kids and adults on hand entering his third year with the Volunteers, who play their home games just nine miles down the road.
Throughout the practice, the two college athletes had a bit of fun joking with the kids, but made sure to encourage and challenge them in the face of a struggle or two. By the end, everyone was content to have Shedeur and Joe spend 15 to 20 minutes taking pictures and videos and signing autographs from fans.
As the event concluded, Sanders headed to a private conference room. Quickly asked about the transition from Jackson State to Colorado, he responded, “It’s a whole new world, from the school to the culture to the altitude to the coaching staff, it’s just different.”
The last six months for Shedeur and his family have been a whirlwind. After “Coach Prime” and his son led JSU to the SWAC Championship, Deion announced his decision to accept the head coaching job at Colorado shortly before the Tigers lost in heartbreaking fashion to the North Carolina Central Eagles in the Celebration Bowl.
As Shedeur said reflecting on the loss, “I had to forget it, it’s erased from my mind now.”
And then, it was onto a new chapter on his biggest stage yet — both for himself and the GOAT-backed brand he represents.
He admitted to missing his old teammates back in Mississippi, however. “I built a lot of good relationships with those guys and the community so sometimes it’s tough,” he said.
Briefly, he looked away, as if re-living his entire run at Jackson State over again. Then, he snaps right out of it, zeroing back in on the future.
“Now, it’s a new era. I’m really excited to get on the field, this is all a part of the journey and it’s going to be fun.”
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