As we celebrate Black History Month, Cheddar is highlighting prominent Black Americans who are carving their own historic paths and trailblazing in their industries. While Black History Month has become synonymous with reflecting on past achievements of Black Americans, it is important that we acknowledge today's historic feats as they happen.
Jackson State University head coach Deion Sanders speaks during an NCAA college football news conference, Friday, Sept. 3, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. Jackson State University and Florida A&M will play in the Orange Blossom Classic on Sunday. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)
For sports programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, signing the nation's top athletic talent can be rare and often an uphill battle for coaches and recruiters. When compared to non-HBCUs and the NCAA's Power Five schools — the wealthiest elite collegiate programs — HBCUs just can't compete. At those institutions, athletes receive top-notch training, housing, access to the best quality foods, and a bigger springboard into pro sports, making the decision for prospects a fairly easy one.
The landscape in college sports could be changing, though.
Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion "Prime Time" Sanders secured the head coaching job of Jackson State University's football program in 2020 and has transformed his elite on-field play to sideline play calling. And he's flourishing. Sanders will head into his third season on a high note after finishing with a program record of 11 wins. The Jackson State Tigers finished with a winning 4-3 record in his inaugural season.
Shortly after being hired, Sanders told "Good Morning America" that one of his goals was to show that Jackson State could produce the same caliber of professional athletes as non-HBCUs.
"I cannot wait for this opportunity. If you give us the resources, if you give us the same resources that these other schools have, we're going to prove that there is a highway that takes you from Jackson State all the to the NFL. We're not just raising professional players, we're raising professionals," he said.
Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders walks the field during an NCAA football game against Louisiana Monroe on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Monroe, La. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)
Sanders' sophomore season was widely recognized, and he was named SWAC coach of the year. He accomplished something nearly unheard of in college sports in 2021 as well. He was able to snag the nation's top recruit in cornerback Travis Hunter, who de-committed from Sanders' own alma mater Florida State University.
Also, with the NCAA having cleared a path for student-athletes to make money on their name and image likeness (NIL), Prime Time could land even more of the nation's top prospects, while advocating for athletes to get compensated and also be smart with financial decisions.
"I am thrilled that these athletes can now financially and personally benefit from all that they do for their institutions and communities. This is a tremendous step in the right direction," Sanders said in a statement following the NCAA's ruling on the matter.
With Grambling State University, an HBCU located in Louisiana, leading the way to secure NIL deals for all of its student-athletes, the possibility of more top recruits considering HBCUs is a very real possibility.