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Deion Sanders and Jackson State looking to have another top recruiting class on signing day

The Tigers are forcing other SWAC teams to improve their recruiting to close the talent gap

Kevin Coleman Jr.’s pledge to play college football for Jackson State wasn’t even 24 hours old when an assistant coach’s cellphone rang.

On the other end, the father of a five-star recruit wanted to know why Travis Hunter, the No. 2 player in the ESPN 300, and Coleman, ranked No. 62, committed to Jackson State.

Did they receive name, image and likeness deals, or some other inducement?

No and no, he was told. 

Whether the player ultimately signs with Jackson State on Wednesday is irrelevant. Wednesday is national signing day for high school football recruits.

What’s important is that coach Deion Sanders and Jackson State were in the conversation for an elite player.

What’s important is that a parent thought enough about lil’ ol’ Jackson State to pick up the phone and see for himself what Sanders’ program is all about. Sanders and Jackson State had the best FCS recruiting class last year.

That’s progress.

“This is what we expected. It ain’t like we didn’t expect to be here,” Sanders said. “It’s only going to get better and bigger.”

Jackson State went 11-2 in Sanders’ first full season as the Tigers’ head coach.

They won the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) championship for the first time since 2007 while setting a school record for wins. Jackson State lost in the Cricket Celebration Bowl to South Carolina State, but that has only fueled Sanders’ passion headed into next season.

Sanders was named FCS Coach of the Year and his son, Shedeur, was named freshman of the year at quarterback after passing for more than 3,000 yards with 30 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

All of that success has impacted recruiting.

Jackson State is expected to sign the top class among FCS schools for the second consecutive year.

Shedeur Sanders and cornerback De’Jahn “Nugget” Warren, who flipped from Georgia, headlined last year’s class.

This year’s class is even better.

“We don’t pitch kids,” Sanders said recently. “I ain’t selling nothing. This is a commitment.

“I lead by example. The way I walk, the way I talk, the way I prepare, that’s how I am. That thing is contagious. The kids get it.

“We look for kids that are fast, tough, smart and have character. When you bring those types of kids into this atmosphere, they’re going to start feeling it and moving the way we move and talking the way we talk and walking like we walk and doing the things that we do.

“It’s contagious.”

Sanders’ phone rings constantly these days. Everyone, it seems, is sending him names of players they think can help Jackson State.

Some can. Some can’t. Sanders is just happy that folks are trying to help recruit.

Jackson State’s recruiting prowess has forced other SWAC schools to be more aggressive in their recruiting.

First-year Grambling coach Hue Jackson has reportedly flipped three recruits headed to Southern this week.

“Come to this environment, because we’re gonna make it great,” Jackson said at his introductory news conference. “We’re doing everything we can to help you [players] chase every goal and aspiration that you have, in the classroom as well as on the football field. We’re winners on the field and off.”

Alabama A&M signed nine FBS transfers, including three former four-star players, during the early signing period as it tries to keep up with the talent gap Jackson State has created in the SWAC.

According to a USA Today article from 2019, Georgia spent $2.6 million on recruiting. Even a perennially bad program such as Kansas spent $1.1 million on recruiting.

Jackson State has a budget of about $15,000.

“[Alabama coach] Nick Saban can go to this game or that game,” Sanders said with a chuckle. “We can Zoom a kid after he leaves, but we can’t be there.

“If I could land a helicopter on the field during a game, it really wouldn’t be fair.”

Sanders credits the coaching staff and graduate assistants for giving recruits an honest assessment of the program and what it means to play for Sanders.

He’s an old-school coach who believes in discipline and up-tempo practices.

He has an eye for detail, and any player wearing the wrong color socks or gear will feel his wrath.

There’s no secret to the Tigers’ recruiting success.

Sanders believes players want three things: a safe environment, three hot meals a day and a chance to play in the NFL.

He lets Jackson State’s game-day environment take care of the rest. Jackson State led the FCS in attendance last season.

“All the bells and whistles, I loved them,” said Sanders, “but that’s not what sold me on Florida State. It was having an opportunity to play in the NFL.”

Jean-Jacques Taylor, a native of Dallas, is an award-winning journalist who has covered the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL for 25 years and is president of JJT Media Group.