Ask your dad or your uncle or your grandpa about the guy they used to call “Prime Time.” And perk your ears up for the way they say “Prime” – sort of like an elongated ‘Pram.”
The phonetic peculiarism is a testament to the staying power of Chris Berman, the ESPN announcer who was more popular a generation ago than he is today, though you can still catch him occasionally hosting SportsCenter.
Whether it is Berman or someone else, they will have plenty to talk about late Sunday night and early Monday morning after Deion Sanders – the former two-sport star now coaching at Jackson State, steps back into the primetime spotlight as his Tigers square off against Florida A&M to kick off Week 1 of the college football season. The game will be nationally televised by ESPN, and you can place at bet on it at MaximBet.
“These kids need the playing field leveled and I cannot wait for this opportunity,” Sanders said. “If you give us the resources, we’re going to prove there is a highway that takes you from Jackson State all the way to the NFL.”
Jackson State has not earned a winning percentage over .500 since its 2013 season, or had a player picked in the NFL draft since 2008. But Sanders landed the No. 1 FCS recruiting class this year, and it is said to be the best recruiting class ever for an HBCU.
“I will not answer any questions unless you address me, ‘Coach Prime,’” Sanders jokingly said to the media. “If your dream is not to play on Sunday, you’re in the wrong place. We’re going after game-changers.”
Sanders’ lads are 2.5-point favorites at MaximBet, which says a lot about the off-the-radar nature of this game. Neither team has odds to win the CFP National Championship.
ESPN can only hope there is a better matchup than what we will see from the marching bands, which is saying something when it comes to HBCUs.
The No. 1 recruit in a lot of ways for Sanders is his son, Shedeur, a quarterback.
A four-star recruit according to ESPN and 247Sports, Shedeur Sanders is the highest-rated high school signee in Jackson State history. He was the No. 12 quarterback in the country and the No. 8 recruit in Texas.
Sanders held offers from more than 25 power five programs after leading his school to two Division II state championships in Texas, where high school football is sort of a big deal (that cues your Friday Night Lights reference).
What makes this game so special is the coach, and Sanders has a place in American sporting folklore after bursting upon the scene in 1989 as the fifth overall pick in the NFL Draft.
A cornerback, wide receiver, kick returner and punt returner who would play 14 NFL seasons, Sanders was a two-sport star when nobody else was doing that anymore (Danny Ainge preceded him, playing basketball for the Phoenix Suns and baseball for the Toronto Blue Jays). He spent eight years in the major leagues and remains the only player ever to appear in both the Super Bowl and the World Series.
Sanders is best known to the younger generation as an announcer, having called games for CBS, NFL Network and Barstool Sports. He has a gift for gab, as they say, and will be a refreshing break from what we have come to expect from Division I college football coaches, who all grew up looking to Joe Paterno for personality inspiration, which just didn’t happen.
Sanders has been getting tutored by Nick Saban, the seven-time national champion head coach from Alabama.
“I took my staff members with me to meet with his staff members (and learn) from them,” Sanders said. “I learned so much, just the subtle things he said, just the subtle approaches that he responded to was phenomenal.
“One of his coaches, assistant head coach, by the way, came down to my coach’s seminar that I had at my home, coach Charles Kelly. It was phenomenal. They are committed and submitted to winning in every facet of their program, not just what you see on the field but the grounds crew, the dietary needs, the training, equipment staff, everybody’s committed to excellence. And that’s something that we want too and we have a desire to echo.”
HBCUs do not often produce spectacular football teams, but Sanders has challenged all HBCU administrators to get their programs up to speed with larger and better-funded schools.
But between the sidelines Sunday night, it’s all about what type of a product Sanders has put together with Jackson State. There will be folks rooting for him to lose, many of them the same folks who resented Sanders’ outspokenness when he went against the grain and played in the NFL and MLB because nobody should be so selfish and self-assured to believe they can play two professional sports at the highest level.
Those types of criticisms were what Sanders endured back when he was playing, and there is a segment of the population that will insist that he has zero chance of success as a college coach because he has never done it at that level.
Beware of those who make coach Sanders a convenient target and focus of undue criticism. It was that way 20 years ago and will remain so today. What is important to remember is that talk is cheap. Sanders is actually putting in the hours at practice after putting in the miles on the recruiting trail.
By the time the season plays out, we’ll know whether Jackson State will be mentionable in the same sentence as Alabama, which is opening the season as the No. 1-ranked team in college football following a 13-0 season and is a 20-point favorite against the Miami Hurricanes.
If Sanders is a success, we will all hear plenty about it, that’s for sure. It gets off to a start Sunday in, you guessed it: Prime Time.
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