Sanders makes memorable start to Jackson State career

NCAA Football

(Stats Perform) – What Jackson State University has gained in new football coach Deion Sanders was on full display during his introductory news conference on Monday.

Actually, it was as much a celebration and a football sermon as it was a news conference.

“I believe there’s wonderful things that are going to happen if we unite together,” Sanders said during a nine-minute speech which drew off his background as a Christian speaker.

The raucous event underscored the excitement and attention that have returned to the Southwestern Athletic Conference school in Mississippi because of the 53-year-old College and Pro Football Hall of Famer, whose “Prime Time” nickname and flamboyant style has transcended generations. Fittingly, he’s the 21st head coach in Jackson State history – matching his old jersey number.

The news conference was big enough for the Williams Athletic and Assembly Center in Jackson, home to the Tigers’ basketball teams. Sanders and his fiancée Tracey Edmonds were driven into the arena behind the school’s marching band and a small police brigade.

He formed his speech around an “I Believe” theme and talked about lifting the school’s slumping football program. The Tigers’ rich tradition boasts Walter Payton, Lem Barney, Robert Brazile and Jackie Slater among 99 NFL Draft picks. Their most recent of 16 SWAC titles was in 2007 and they’ve suffered six straight losing seasons, although last year the school led the FCS level in home attendance average.

“I believe the men who I sat (with) and looked in their eyes on the Zoom call (Sunday) can win SWAC championships,” said Sanders, who goes by Coach Prime.

“I hope you’re all ready,” he later added, “I hope you’re prepared, and I hope you’re able, because I have a commitment to excellence in each and every thing I do.”

Sanders wore Jackson State colors with a navy blue blazer, a white shirt and white-checkered navy blue pants while switching between navy blue and white baseball caps. At one point, he opened his blazer to reveal JSU logos sewn on the inside.

“I’m not JSU on the outside, I’m JSU,” he said, drawing great laughter and applause.

Sanders is a first-time head coach whose prior experience is only on the high school level in the north Texas area.

The SWAC postponed its fall season to the spring semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Sanders era is scheduled to kick off on Feb. 19 or 20 at home against Division II program Edward Waters.

“We’re going to win, we’re going to look good while we win, we’re going to have a good time while we win, and we’re going to do this professionally,” he said. “But I believe this is going to be a marriage made in heaven.”

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