Deion Sanders’ dramatic reclamation of the Jackson State University football program will reach another milestone when the Tigers face the South Carolina State Bulldogs in the Cricket Celebrity Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia this Saturday beginning at 11 a.m. The game, considered the Black college football national championship, will be broadcast on ABC.  

It will be the first appearance in the Celebration Bowl for both teams and JSU’s first bowl game since playing in the 1971 Azalea Bowl, Jackson State legend Walter Payton’s freshman year. The Celebration Bowl’s inaugural game was in 2015 and annually matches the NCAA Division I Southwest Athletic Conference and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champions.

Jackson State won the SWAC going 11-1, the most single season victories in school history, while South Carolina State finished 6-5 under longtime head coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough, who is in his 20th season heading the program. The Bulldogs most recently produced linebacker Darius Leonard, a two-time MEAC Defensive Player of the Year (2016, 2017).

After being drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Leonard was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in leading the league in tackles, was voted First-Team All-Pro in 2018 and 2020, and Second-Team All-Pro in 2019.

The 54-year-old Sanders, a 2011 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, and considered one of the NFL’s greatest cornerbacks and kick returners, took over a football operation in September of last year that had not won more than five games since the 2013 season. On Tuesday, it was announced that he had been selected as the 2021 Stats Perform FCS Eddie Robinson Award recipient, which honors the national coach of the year in the Division I subdivision. The award’s namesake is the iconic Grambling State University head coach, who passed away in 2007.  

“This is a team effort, it’s a valiant effort, it takes a lot, it does not just take me,” said Sanders. “I know it takes a visionary, but people have to really support the vision. And that’s what we did.”

He was greatly aided by his son, quarterback Sheduer Sanders. The younger Sanders, who was recruited by numerous major college programs coming out of Trinity Christian right outside of Dallas, Texas, initially committed to Florida Atlantic but joined his father when he took the job at JSU.

Sheduer shrugged off pressure and exceeded expectations in becoming the 2021 Jerry Rice Award winner, given to the best freshman in FCS football. Throwing for 2,971 yards, 28 touchdowns and just five interceptions, he became the first HBCU player to win the award since it was established 11 years ago.

The Sanders duo also substantially impacted Jackson, Mississippi beyond the football field. Visit Jackson, which on its website is described as “the official destination marketing organization for the city of Jackson,” recently reported that JSU’s 2021 football season brought in $30 million, an increase of $14 million from the 2019 season.

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