Shedeur Sanders’ cleats tell his connection to Young Dolph and his Jackson State squad
Designers Dez Zambrano and Mohammed Gafar work each week to design cleats for the Jackson State QB
JACKSON, Miss. — When Shedeur Sanders found out his friend Young Dolph had been killed on Nov. 17, Sanders knew exactly how he wanted to honor the Memphis, Tennessee, rapper.
Sanders wanted to wear a football cleat honoring his friend.
So he contacted Dez Zambrano and Mohammed Gafar, who create the custom cleats he’s been wearing since his senior year at Trinity Christian (Texas) High School.
They took care of the rest.
“I had a good friendship with him. Me and him had a different kind of relationship. He really talked to me about life in general,” Sanders said. “We just clicked. I don’t think relationships are built over what you have in common, it’s the energy when you’re around them. It just felt natural.”
Young Dolph was even the JSU locker room after the team’s homecoming win in October.
Zambrano and Gafar, who have been partners for about five years, started working with Sanders after completing a project for his father Deion Sanders’ youth organization named TRUTH. They own two different companies but wanted to collaborate this season on the cleats.
They alternate working on Shedeur Sanders’ cleats. Each does two pairs, then takes the next two games off.
Gafar created the Young Dolph cleat.
“When the news broke” of Young Dolph’s killing, Gafar said, “[Shedeur] immediately reached out and said, ‘Hold on, I might want to do a tribute to Young Dolph.’ ”
Once the news had been confirmed, Sanders requested the cleats.
“The color scheme came from matching the jersey, mainly gray with highlights of navy blue. I wanted the same balance of color you see on the uniforms on the shoe,” Gafar said. “I basically searched online for a picture that represented him the best.
“That image I found was straight on and detailed, and I knew it would be good. I wanted the artist on the outside [of the cleat] so it would get the most views, and I wanted legendary on the side of Dolph because it pertains to him, because so many people loved him and loved his music.”
Gafar worked on the cleat nonstop the Thursday before the Tigers’ Nov. 20 game and shipped it that night. Sanders loved the final product.
“It was great,” he said. “Every week it’s something different. It blows my mind week in and week out.”
These days, Zambrano and Gafar have the process streamlined.
Before the season, Zambrano and Gafar received the color scheme for each of Jackson State’s first six games.
They built their concepts around Jackson State’s dominant color during the week and the four images and words Sanders wants on every shoe.
That’s Sanders’ personal logo (dollar sign squared), his nickname (“Grown”), Jackson State’s logo and the word “legendary.” He also wants the shoe to match that week’s color scheme.
Just so you know, Jackson State has six uniforms and five helmets.
“We’ve been working with him for three years. Normally, it’s a color scheme,” Zambrano said. “We’re wearing all black this week and that’s how the Tiger pair came about.
“He doesn’t really micromanage. He’s not asking for mockups or pictures. He’s not asking for anything. At the end of the day, he gives us a high-level plan and we execute it.
“For the first six games, there was very little communication. We just wanted to make sure we got them out on time.”
The shoes have gotten bolder as Jackson State has emerged as the best historically Black college football team, and one of the best FCS schools in the country.
Jackson State (10-1) will play Prairie View A&M (7-4) Saturday at 4 p.m. ET at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium for the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) championship.
Jackson State hasn’t won the SWAC since 2007.
“The first part of the year we wanted to blend in with the color scheme. We didn’t want to go overly loud or overly crazy because we wanted to ease in and amplify the season as it went along,” Zambrano said. “We were color matching more than anything, keeping it clean and crispy.
“As [the] season progressed, we wanted the artwork to progress. As the season has progressed, the cleats have become more artistic and more outside the lines.”
After he wears the cleats, Sanders donates some to charity. Occasionally, he’ll give some away. Obviously, he keeps some as well.
And if Jackson State wins its first SWAC championship in 14 years, odds are those cleats will find a prominent spot in his room. Or at his dad’s house.