The coveted magazine features HBCU talent for the first time in nearly 30 years

The coveted magazine features HBCU talent for the first time in nearly 30 years

Major contributors to the Jackson State University Tigers football team are front and center in a new magazine cover. Read more in Sports Illustrated below.

Can Deion Sanders continue to wield his power of influence and take more of a stake in college football in 2022?

HBCU football has been under the main influence of Deion Sanders. The Jackson State head football coach has elevated all HBCU athletic teams and institutions from mediocrity to relevance since joining in November 2020.

The chatter quickly evolved from sideshow “Neon Deion” to “Prime Effect,” where mainstream sports topics centered on his daring commentary and impressive win at Jackson State.

It’s been nearly 30 years since Sports Illustrated has featured an HBCU athlete on its magazine cover. The “Hand Him the Heisman” photo of Alcorn State fire and great Steve McNair graced the September 26, 1994, issue of Sports Illustrated — yet no one else from an HBCU — not before Deion Sanders.

Today, Deion Sanders, his son and quarterback Shedeur Sanders, and star rookie Travis Hunter are highlighted by his longtime friend Jean-Jacques Taylor on SI. Coach Deion Sanders and his program are becoming a legitimate force in the college football landscape.

If you’re not sure, ask Nick Saban.


On May 19, the eight-time national championship head coach made unsubstantiated claims about Jackson State’s recruiting of Travis Hunter. He told a group of Alabama businessmen that the institution lured Hunter to the HBCU with a million-dollar NIL contract.

The claim is baseless, but it speaks to the relevance of Coach Prime’s abilities to attract and recruit five-star prospects. The underlying message is simple. The FBS coaching base is concerned that more defections to HBCUs are looming. They are right.

Travis Hunter is the key.

Coach Sanders aptly paired the freshman phenom with literally his own phenom – Shedeur Sanders. The two players have been “partners in crime” since Hunter joined Jackson State early. The 2021 Jerry Rice Award-winning quarterback has taken Hunter under his wing.

We’ve seen them in the Coach Prime office, in private workouts, on private planes, and even at corporate events. The chemistry is noticeable for the star players seemingly inseparable from Coach Sanders.


Saban and his cronies were right to freak out over the loss of Hunter. At Jackson State’s Spring Game, the freshman stunned the JSU faithful and millions of ESPN viewers with touchdowns and huge defensive plays.

Hunter is the real deal. Returning Travis Hunter could become the biggest reason college football recruiting will never be the same for the Power 5 and HBCUs. Should Deion Sanders field another winning team and a Celebration Bowl championship or an FCS playoff berth, FBS coaches’ concerns would escalate in next season’s recruiting cycle.

Nonetheless, Hunter is one of those rare players who strikes once in his life for a program. Will the ‘Sanders-Hunter connection’ be ‘primed’ to propel the Jackson State program to new levels in 2022?

Nobody knows. But rest assured, Deion Sanders has shaken and shaken the current foundations of HBCU and NCAA football.

Will his power continue to grow or will it peak soon?

We will see.

Amanda P. Whitten