Narrative is important. Most of our lives as humans comprise of stories: whether it be religious practices or cultural values. As a society, we socialize the youth to dream big. Teaching the art of manifesting or working towards an end goal is the essence of the American Dream. This is also the story of Deion Sanders. Or better yet, the story of Deion’s “Prime Time” persona.

Ultimately, Deion reached his goal. Not only keeping his promise to his mother by being the highest earning cornerback of his time, but in the process he became arguably the most influential football player by position – ever. There are countless quarterbacks, and skill position players for young athletes to pattern their games after. Quarterbacks today might not model themselves after Brett Favre. Today’s receivers today might have grown up on Jerry Rice. But today’s young defensive backs know Deion Sanders well. They know why the number 21 is a crown jewel for a cornerback; and understand, thanks to Deion, the swagger required to play the position too.

Neon Deion. 💯Prime Time. 🕶

The nicknames came easy for @DeionSanders with a career like THIS. (via @NFLThrowback) #NFL100

— NFL (@NFL) August 9, 2019

This is rare for a position – cornerback – that mirrors baseball more than any other football position. The position is built off of failure. A defensive back can do his job well and still give up a catch or a touchdown. Yet he has to have a short memory, maintaining his level of confidence to be ready to make a play later on. To build a persona that stood out and delivered within a position that could come with such criticism after giving up a big play was, and still is, rare. It is this blueprint that Deion sells, and we found during his three year stint at Jackson State that it works.

The conversation shifting to this question of what Deion owes HBCUs and this idea of the Hall of Famer using Jackson State as a stepping stone undersells the risk involved on Jackson State’s behalf. He was an unknown in much of the same light as Jeff Saturday taking over the Indianapolis Colts. Neither possessed the bonafides to objectively explain why they would have success. Yet it is what both provided to the game both on and off the field that enabled faith to be had that they could inspire their players in somewhat unconventional methods.

Sanders’ rise in essentially 2.5 years – his first season in 2020 was cut short due to COVID-19 – was meteoric to say the least. From the improvement in facilities, to poaching four and five star recruits from legitimate Power 5 institutions, Deion proved he could compete in the college football landscape. In order for HBCU’s to make the mountainous strides many want them to, it is going to take more than one program. Deion’s Jackson State tenure is an example of what intentionality and want-to can do. Power 5 schools have far more resources, connections and local and state level buy-in. Sanders accomplishing what he did on the recruiting and facilities trail in such a short time on the field; and back-to-back SWAC championships and a 16-0 run in the conference on the field marked all he could feasibly accomplish on his own.

Deion Sanders is back in the same situation that led to the Prime Time persona being born. Understanding that he needed to be larger than the position, something entirely new in order to achieve his personal goals. It is no coincidence that for as “code switched” as Sanders was during his Colorado press conference, that the jersey presented had Coach Prime on the back.

Photo Credit

Will HBCU football ever see a magnanimous coach the likes of Deion again? Probably not. The story of Prime Time and the gifts that come with that are unique to Deion. His particular ability to be of influence is one of a kind. That helped Jackson State to hit the ground and run, but if the true goal is the resurrection of HBCU football and to be a legitimate conference in college football that was never going to be done by just Deion Sanders.

However, hopefully the path has been set by Deion for former NFL players to consider growing at an HBCU over being an assistant at a Power 5 school. Who knows? Maybe this can help NFL coaches stuck in the Rooney Rule spin cycle. Future NFL stars following Deion’s path may not be able to flip four and five star recruits to start but with the new transfer rules in place these programs can get talented Power 5 players even faster now.

Deion’s Jackson State run showed us what can be done. And while Colorado is not the caliber of program that Auburn, Nebraska – or even Cincinnati – is, it should still be considered a success that a Power 5 school looked at Deion’s short stint in the SWAC and salivated over the possibilities. This is only the beginning.