Jackson State coach Deion Sanders says historically black college programs can be a pathway to the NFL for top recruits, but it’s hard to compete with wealthier, traditional power schools.
Sanders, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who starred with the Falcons, 49ers and Cowboys, is in his third season with Jackson State. The Tigers are 6-0 on the year after winning the Southwestern Athletic Conference last year.
“Now that we’ve come out, the kids feel like you have an option. I can still go through there (HBCU) and it can take me to the NFL,” Sanders said Tuesday during an interview with the AP Top 25 College Football Podcast. “I don’t have to go to one of the PWIs (predominantly white institutions) just to make it to the NFL.”
He spoke to the AP during a break from a visit to Mississippi Children’s Hospital in Jackson, where he also represented insurance company Aflac.
HBCUs like Jackson State and its SWAC rivals have been a goldmine of top talent for decades, in large part due to segregation.
Even as Southeastern Conference schools integrated in the late 1960s and 1970s, many talented black players ended up playing at HBCUs.
There are 33 players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame from HBCUs, but many of the biggest stars like Willie Lanier (Morgan State) and Walter Payton (Jackson State) played during the 1960s and 70s.
The number of NFL players produced by HBCUs declined after the 1990s, but there are signs that it is on the rise again as scouts pay more attention to those schools.
Sanders said he was able to land two of the nation’s top football recruits this year (five-star running back Travis Hunter and four-star receiver Kevin Coleman) because they saw an opportunity to develop into NFL players from Coach Prime and his staff.
“So now that becomes an option,” Sanders said. “But it is not a very balanced option because of the facilities, because of the accommodation. Because of all the aesthetics at HBCUs. We are underfunded and neglected. So it’s not the same.”
“So it’s pretty hard to convince a guy to leave the hood and go to the hood.”
Sanders also said his son, Tigers quarterback Shedeur Sanders, should receive the Heisman Trophy for consideration along with all the top players competing in college football’s second tier of Division I known as the FCS.
“I think the Heisman Trophy is really the most dominant college football player,” Sanders said. “They didn’t say in the FBS. They said that he is the most dominant college football player today. There are some guys that are really putting up some really great numbers. Not just Shedeur.
“I don’t think these guys should be cut off just because of where they go to school.”
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