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Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders always puts in the work

From eighth grade to Division I football, Sanders continues to block out distractions while meeting demands of his father, coach Deion Sanders

BOULDER, Colo. — Don’t be fooled by the two Louis Vuitton duffel bags Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders carries on road games.

And don’t pay too much attention to the stainless steel Audemars Piguet Royal Oak 15500 watch he wears or the Mercedes-Maybach he drives.

Sanders, the son of Colorado coach Deion Sanders, was born into affluence. However, he can afford his luxury items these days because of a lengthy list of endorsement deals that includes Gatorade, Beats By Dre, and Mercedes-Benz.

Nothing, however, interferes with the work.


Sanders, you see, worked hard to become one of the nation’s best high school quarterbacks. He ranked 62nd on the ESPN 300 list of top recruits for 2021. He’s worked even harder to become one of college football’s top quarterbacks — and it hasn’t mattered whether he played at Jackson State or Colorado.

And he’ll get an opportunity on Saturday to show how he matches up with USC quarterback Caleb Williams, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, when Colorado hosts USC on Saturday at noon ET.

Sanders leads the nation in completion percentage (76.9%) among quarterbacks with at least 150 passing attempts. He’s second with 1,410 passing yards and tied for ninth with 11 touchdown passes. He’s thrown just one interception.

The impressive numbers result from a work ethic his father demanded and Sanders appreciated.

Colorado Buffaloes quarterback Shedeur Sanders arrivers at Folsom Field on Sept. 9 in Boulder, Colorado.

RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Sanders, who prides himself on being strongly focused, despises distractions.

“I’m not on social media during the week. Maybe, a little bit after the game and a little bit Sunday. I cut it off on Monday,” Sanders said. “A lot of people are glued to their phones and stuff. I don’t see no news. I don’t see no poison. I don’t look at YouTube or nothing.

“Everybody around me knows I’m not trying to hear nothing about nothing. They already know how I am.”

That’s because Sanders wants to be a first-round NFL draft pick, and studying video, perfecting his footwork, and practicing hard is the only way to achieve his goals.

Besides, the millions he’s reportedly earning from numerous name, image and likeness deals don’t compare to the millions he can make as a starting quarterback in the NFL.

“Just because you grow up in privilege doesn’t mean you don’t want it,” said former NFL quarterback Jeff Blake, who began working with Sanders when he was in middle school.

“He knows what it takes because he grew up around it. It’s no different than a kid whose parents are a doctor or a lawyer. They know what’s required to excel at the highest level. Shedeur has always wanted any information that would make him better. He always wanted to train. He always wanted to work hard.”

Deion Sanders asked Blake to work with the quarterbacks during his Prime 21 summer football camps. Later, he asked Blake to work with Shedeur and change his son’s elongated delivery.

Blake lived in Austin, Texas, Sanders lived in suburban Dallas. No problem. Sometimes, they’d meet 100 miles away in Waco, halfway between Dallas and Austin.

“We’d find an open field if we couldn’t get on a football field,” said Blake, “and do the work.”

Other times, Blake made the three-hour drive to Dallas. It took about a year for Blake to change Sanders’ mechanics from the wind-up delivery he had as a youngster to the pristine mechanics he uses today.

Blake worked with him exclusively for a couple of years before taking a job with IMG Football Academy in Bradenton, Florida, creating an opening for Darrell Colbert Jr.

Colbert played quarterback with Shedeur Sanders’ older brother, Deion Sanders Jr., at SMU for two years before transferring to Lamar University. He began working with quarterbacks in the Houston area, where he grew up, and owns Select Quarterback Athletics.

One day, Shedeur Sanders was in Houston with his mother when he called Colbert and asked if he wanted to work out. For the next three days, Colbert picked the eighth grader up in the morning, and they spent the day doing drills.

“For as long as I’ve known Shedeur, he’s been a worker,” said Colorado linebacker coach André Hart, who has known Shedeur Sanders since he started playing football and coached him in high school.

“His daddy demanded they practice hard and work at the game. He was hard on them, but I don’t ever remember Shedeur ever giving him any pushback. [Colorado safety] Shilo [Sanders] either. Work is all they knew.”

Colorado Buffaloes coach Deion Sanders (left) talks with his son, quarterback Shedeur Sanders (right), before the game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium Sept. 23, in Eugene, Oregon.

Andy Cross/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Deion Sanders learned about hard work from his mother, who worked two jobs as a kid, and his stepfather Willie Knight, the foreman at a lumber yard. Knight often took his stepson to the lumber yard and paid him to pull weeds and clean out flower beds.

“When you see a man in a pickup truck, the first thing you think is work,” Deion Sanders told his team recently. “The first thing I bought my kids — Shilo, Shedeur — was a pickup truck because there’s something about a pickup truck and work that makes you stand out and makes you a little different.”

The work Sanders puts in is not just physical. His study habits have allowed him to play well despite learning a new offense every year he’s been in college.

As a freshman at Jackson State, he passed for 3,231 with 30 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. As a sophomore, Sanders passed for 3,732 yards with 40 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.

“At the end of the day, he was a 19-year-old freshman playing college football, and that’s hard for anybody,” Colbert said. “I don’t care what level: FCS, Division II.

“The speed is different. The coaches are asking you to do more. You have so much more control over the offense. That says a lot about him as a player.”

It’s all a product of work — and Sanders’ never-ending quest to find the weak spot in every defensive scheme. He watches videos on his iPad daily almost until game time.

“If you give him 10 plays, he wants to know the ins and outs of all 10 plays,” Colbert said. “ ‘If they do this, what’s our answer? If they do that, what’s our answer?’

“And if he doesn’t have that, he’s not comfortable, and he’ll say he doesn’t want to run it. He wants to understand what the playcaller is thinking and why he’s calling certain plays in certain situations because he doesn’t want to force things. He might ask 20 questions about one play because there are so many different things a defense can do with coverages and fronts.”

And he demands feedback. He’s not shy about asking questions because he wants to take the field with supreme confidence. All of the knowledge allows him to play with poise. He’s calm in the pocket and unflappable under pressure because he knows the answer to every defensive question.

“Football is football. Everybody is going to see football different. I’m able to see different perspectives of ball and different ways you can get it done,” he said. “I really like knowing and learning and understanding the challenge of figuring out a defense. It motivates me.”

He led Jackson State on a game-tying 15-play, 81-yard touchdown drive in the Cricket Celebration Bowl and threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to cornerback Travis Hunter as time expired, sending the game to overtime.

He took Colorado 98 yards in the final two minutes against Colorado State and threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Horn Jr. to force overtime, when the Buffs won.

“He [Shedeur Sanders] wants to understand what the playcaller is thinking and why he’s calling certain plays in certain situations because he doesn’t want to force things. He might ask 20 questions about one play because there are so many different things a defense can do with coverages and fronts.”

— Darrell Colbert Jr., Shedeur Sanders’ former quarterbacks coach

Still, Sanders is coming off his worst statistical performance of the year. He passed for just 159 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a 42-6 loss to Oregon.

The Ducks sacked him seven times.

“No one wants to take a sack, and no one wants to throw the ball away,” Colbert said. “He just has to understand the situation and the clock and know that every time you can’t stand in there and make a play.”

Sanders has been sacked 22 times, the most in the country.

“It’s my son, but I don’t have emotions as a father when I’m out there just as a coach,” Deion Sanders said. “You don’t want your quarterbacks to get touched. Sometimes he holds it, waiting for guys to clear and get open. Sometimes, there’s nobody open. It is what it is.

“We gotta fix it. You don’t want that because you want him to endure throughout the season ’cause when he’s doing his thing, we’re doing our thing.”

Jean-Jacques Taylor is an award-winning journalist who is currently president of JJT Media Group and has covered sports in Dallas-Fort Worth for 31 years.