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Jackson State’s Shedeur Sanders wins Jerry Rice Award as top FCS freshman

He’ll lead the Tigers into the Cricket Celebration Bowl in Atlanta

Shedeur Sanders was the highest-rated recruit to sign with an FCS school last year.

He lived up to the hype.

Sanders passed for 3,056 yards with 29 touchdowns and six interceptions while leading Jackson State to an 11-1 record and its first Southwestern Athletic Conference championship since 2007.

That performance is why he was named the 2021 recipient of the 11th annual Stats Perform Jerry Rice Award, given to the national FCS Freshman of the Year.

A 50-member, national media panel selected the Jerry Rice Award winner after the regular season.

Central Arkansas’ Darius Hale finished second. There were 23 finalists.

The Jerry Rice Award is named after Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice. Past recipients include Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington) and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (North Dakota State).

Jackson State coach Deion Sanders said he loves his son’s approach to the game.

“I’m proud of him the way he’s played,” Deion Sanders recently told The Undefeated. “The way he sees the field, the way he’s encouraged his teammates, the way he approaches practice daily, the way he gets on their butts when they not doing what they need to do. I’m just proud of his maturity and who he is on and off the field.”

Sanders will lead JSU (11-1) against South Carolina State in the Cricket Celebration Bowl on Dec. 18 in Atlanta.

Sanders finished the season with a 158.20 passer efficiency rating, which ranked seventh in the FCS.

He will be honored at the FCS National Awards Banquet on Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas. The event will be broadcast on Bally Sports Regional Networks.

Stats Perform also will present the Walter Payton Award (FCS Offensive Player of the Year), Buck Buchanan Award (FCS Defensive Player of the Year), Eddie Robinson Award (FCS Coach of the Year) and Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete Award at the event.

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.