In spurning FSU for an Deion Sanders-led HBCU Jackson State, the No. 1 recruit in the high school class of 2022 changed the game. And the college football landscape will never be the same.
“We’re good now, but next year, we are going to be great. Next year, we are really going to put an exclamation point at the end of the sentence,” Deion Sanders said last week in an interview with Boardroom. “It’s going to be totally different. I think the projection of guys that we are going to have going to the [NFL] is going to be greater.”
Coach Prime kept his word and has done the unthinkable. Travis Hunter, a 5-star running back and cornerback who was long committed to Florida State — Sanders’ alma mater, no less — officially decommitted from the Seminoles Wednesday and dramatically flipped to Jackson State.
The 6-foot-1, 165-pound cornerback is the No. 1 overall prospect in the class of 2022 according to 247Sports. And it’s hard to understate just how unprecedented and altogether seismic this dramatic move truly is for the history and trajectory of HBCU football.
Hunter, a Suwanne, Georgia native, said he always envisioned himself playing for the Seminoles, but realized he wanted something bigger.
“Jerry Rice, Doug Williams, and of course, the legend, JSU’s own Walter Payton — historically Black colleges and universities have a rich history in football. I want to be part of that history, and more, I want to be part of that future,” said Hunter in a statement on Twitter. “HBCUs may be everything you want and more, an exciting college experience, a vital community, and a life-changing place to play football. I look forward to working with the iconic Deion Sanders, and especially with my fellow Tigers.”
In the big picture, Sanders’ presence has not only lured recruits to flip — he’s also brought in money for the university. Last week Gillette donated $50,000 with the potential to double the figure to an even $100,000. Walmart donated $2.4 million to Jackson State earlier this year. The Tigers are in the process of raising $2.5 million for its COVID-19 athletic pandemic relief fund.
In terms of competing with college football’s top dogs, Jackson State is succeeding with minimal resources by comparison. The FCS school’s 2021 football budget was $2.1 million and its overall recruiting budget was $15,700, but even with a noticeably lower budget, Jackson State beat out schools like Kansas State, Duke, UCF, and Iowa State — all of whom had football budgets above $20 million — in 247Sports’ final 2021 recruiting class rankings.
It remains to be seen where Jackson State will rank in this year’s 2022 recruiting race, but welcoming the likes of Hunter could produce a cumulative effect that lures in other top-notch prospects. After all, there’s real momentum in Jackson after the 2021 recruiting class showcased the power of Prime and helped the Tigers to an 11-1 record; their only loss came against FBS school Louisiana Monroe.
Jackson State is set to face off against South Carolina State on Saturday in the final game of the HBCU football season, the Celebration Bowl. And no matter how the game plays out, the Tigers, their fans, and their countless alumni will have serious cause to celebrate.