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Shilo Sanders: Rise of the ‘Loud Leader’

Shilo Sanders embodies his legendary father in leadership and playing style, and can pull off the perfect Coach Prime impression.

When Shilo Sanders speaks, his father’s charisma adds seasoning to his words. Whether it be on his Instagram or on a Zoom interview with Boardroom, the Jackson State safety is lighthearted and playful, conveying a smile whenever he finishes talking.

That changes when he steps onto the football field. Sanders’ reputation as the tone setter and hard hitter for the Tigers’ defense precedes him.

“I bring the energy and the physicality that puts the defense together, especially in the secondary,” he said. 

Sanders’ teammate, Jackson State cornerback De’Jahn Warren, added: “He’s a loud leader for sure. He’ll communicate in ways that try to motivate you. Some leaders break you down in the midst of trying to help you do better, but Shilo is going to push you to be the best you can be.”

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So far, Shilo Sanders’ highlight tapes are different from those of his father, his head coach and Pro Football Hall of Famer, Deion Sanders.

Most of Shilo’s highlights are eye-popping hits, whereas his father’s are interceptions, pass breakups and punt return touchdowns. Including college, Coach Prime’s playing career lasted 18 years, so naturally his footage is longer. 

But Shilo doesn’t see a difference between his father’s play style and his own.

“When it comes to being physical, ever since I was young he has raised me to be a dog.”

Shilo then recalled a memory from his dad and began to imitate his voice: “Son, you not gon’ find one clip of me turning down no tackle.”

“That’s true,” Shilo said, back in his own voice. “He’s probably not a tackle first guy but he’s going to make a play. Nobody can ever question that.” 

The 2022 Jackson State Tigers have arguably the highest expectations of any HBCU football team. Despite falling short of a Celebration Bowl victory last season, the Tigers finished as the highest-ranked HBCU in the FCS polls. After an offseason where the Tigers recruited the No. 1 high school prospect in the nation and brought on more standout recruits and transfers, Sanders does not want to merely meet the proverbial bar set for him and his team. 

“We’re trying to make an impact that has never been made and change history,” Sanders said. “I don’t know what everyone’s expectations are and what little dreams they talking about, but whatever it is, we’re trying to go past that and run it up all the way.”

Off the field, Sanders’ Instagram page showcases collaborations with Gillette, KFC, and most recently, Porsche. He may post pictures wearing glistening jewelry but Shilo says he hardly spends any of the money he receives from deals.

“Any NIL deal I do, most of it goes straight to investments on the stock market,” he said. 

“Ever since my teammate Ced [Moffet] showed me the ropes, my whole way of thinking about money changed,” Sanders continued. “Why would I buy a Louis Vuitton bag for $3,000 when if I put that money up in [let’s] say Tesla stock and wait three years, that $3,000 could be $50,000. So would I rather have a bag in three years or would I rather have a real bag?”

Sanders’ Instagram is teeming with influencer-esque jokes, and no one is off limits. Not even his family. Videos on Shilo’s Instagram include him jokingly holding his brother, Shedeur, against a wall after Shedeur joked that Shilo makes no rules. In another, he surprises his dad by imitating his voice as soon as his father puts the camera on him.

“I just like to have fun,” Sanders said. “I keep building my brand on my mind. [My pops] was known for a lot off the field. We talk about it all the time. The combination off the off-the-field presence and the on-the-field presence that he had and the way he did it made a really big difference. I want to do that too.”

One of the things that Shilo thought about for months is his now-trademarked brand Headache Gang. The origin behind the company comes from back when he played for South Carolina. He recalls hitting another player so hard that he wanted to trademark something in particular to represent those hits. He began saying “headache gang” and eventually it stuck.

Sanders explained the meaning of headache gang is to cause the opposing teams headaches with his play on the field. The Jackson State safety intends to start making apparel sometime soon.

Depending upon whether Shilo declares for the 2023 NFL Draft, his NIL earning potential can last until 2024. 

The NIL and sponsorship money is great but the opportunity to make much more will come from the chance to play professionally, which remains his end goal.

“I’m trying to solidify that I’m the best by taking over the conference and the position,” he said. 

Jackson State hosted a Pro Day in which 36 players worked out in front of 22 of the league’s teams. Coach Prime hasn’t hesitated to call out the teams that didn’t show up.

“if I catch you at Mississippi State and Ole Miss, it’s gon’ be a problem,” he said. “Our kids are that good that you should’ve shown up too. I’m going to expose them.”

Later that day, he delivered on his promise, saying, “the Dolphins, the Broncos, the Texans, the Bills, the Buccaneers, the Ravens, the Panthers, the Browns, the Vikings and the Eagles. Where art thou? You could’ve sent somebody.”

When asked about the Pro Day, Shilo laughed.

“I just want to tell y’all other teams that’s him,” he said. “Don’t take that out on me when it’s my turn. There’s a lot of guys who played in Power 5 conferences that are playing at HBCUs, and they are good players. I’m not just saying come look at us because we are HBCUs, I’m saying we have great players here so come check us out.”

The Tigers kick off their season against Florida A&M on Sept. 4 in Miami at the Orange Blossom Classic.

(This story has been corrected to show Ced Moffet taught Shilo stocks/investments, not another teammate.)

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