Hayes: Coach Prime is about to put the exclamation point on Colorado Football
If everything goes as planned, he’ll have the last laugh again.
Because when has that beaming, ear-to-ear told you so grin not punctuated so many arguments over so many years and in so many ways?
When has the greatest defensive back in college and NFL history, the greatest singular promotional force in football history, not figured it out?
And more important: Why in the world would he fail now?
“This is just a pause,” Deion Sanders said after announcing his first recruiting class at Colorado. “This is just a comma.”
Wait until the exclamation point arrives.
Last month, Sanders announced Colorado’s No. 21-ranked recruiting class, his first at the school after a whirlwind hiring led to weeks of controlled chaos of recruiting for the worst Power 5 team of 2022.
The class, which included the No. 1 overall player from the 2022 class (Jackson State transfer CB Travis Hunter), and the No. 1 cornerback (and top-10 overall) from the 2023 class (Cormani McClain), was a jump of 37 spot from the previous year’s rankings. It was also 36 spots higher than the average ranking at Colorado over the previous 10 years.
When your recruiting ranking is in the high 50s, you get high 50s results. When you’re in the low 20s — and it’s only going to get better from here — you get a team that competes for conference championships.
Colorado hasn’t won a conference championship in more than 2 decades, when it played in the Big 12 and when a power run game was still a way to win games in big-time college football.
But 1 thing hasn’t changed since those halcyon days of Chris Brown and Bobby Purify (Google ’em, kids): players win games.
Sanders got a quarterback Alabama wanted 2 years ago when Deion’s son, Shedeur Sanders (a former 4-star recruit), followed him to CU. Shedeur had 70 TD passes the past 2 seasons at Jackson State and was the focal point of a class rated higher than anything Colorado has seen since 2008, when then-coach Dan Hawkins landed a top-15 class.
Colorado added starters from the SEC (Arkansas edge Jordan Domineck, Kentucky RB Kavosiey Smoke), ACC (Clemson LB Vonta Bentley) and Big 12 (West Virginia edge Taijh Alston), and elite Group of 5 receiver Jimmy Horn Jr. from USF.
Colorado signed 2 5-star recruits and 7 4-star recruits, and Sanders isn’t done recruiting the transfer portal. He has changed the geographic recruiting footprint for a program that acted like it recruited nationally but couldn’t pull it off.
He landed 11 players from the talent-rich states of Florida and Georgia, and is deep in the process of completely turning over a roster that gave up an average of 44.5 points per game in 2022 — and scored only 15.4.
More than anything, he understands players win games. Because beyond the bombastic bravado, beyond the cocksure attitude and Primetime glitz and glam, Deion knows ball.
How to play it, how to coach it, how to motivate young men to stay invested and engaged. How to build a roster and develop players and get teams ready to play.
He went 27-6 at Jackson State and won 2 SWAC championships. He got Wal-Mart to build a brand new practice field, and got major sponsors (American Airlines, Wal-Mart, Proctor and Gamble) to build a new football facility and contribute to the HBCU school.
He doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, doesn’t curse.
“He’s not close to the person you think he is,” LeRoy Butler, Sanders’ teammate at FSU and a Hall of Fame safety with the Green Bay Packers, told me. “He’s as real as it gets.”
He’ll land a few more impact recruits once the spring transfer portal opens May 1. He’ll take a team few believe in and win more games than anyone could’ve imagined.
He has taken a a program that has hit rock bottom, that in the past 10 years produced 2 of the worst seasons in more than a century of football, and rebranded it from Day 1.
From the worst Power 5 school to the only FBS school to have its spring game televised live by ESPN (1 p.m., MT, April 22).
The network that owns college football, that could televise any program’s spring game, decided only Colorado was worth it. Two-time defending national champion Georgia will have its spring game televised on ESPN2. So will college football king Alabama.
USC was a game away from advancing to the Playoff in 2022 and won’t have its spring game televised. Two-time Pac-12 champion Utah won’t, either.
Colorado, meanwhile, will be on the main network, a 3-hour recruiting tool for all things Deion and the Buffs.
He has already figured it out, everyone.
The only thing that’s left is the exclamation point.