Deion Sanders on 'abrupt ending' to Jackson State football season, what he learned in first year

Joshua Capers
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

Expectations were high for Jackson State football in Deion Sanders' first season as not only the coach of the Tigers, but as a college coach.

Rightfully so, as the Pro Football Hall of Famer's expectations were higher than probably anyone else.

Regardless, Sanders and JSU saw their irregular spring season come to an early end Tuesday, when the Tigers (4-3, 3-2 SWAC) had to cancel their final game against Prairie View A&M because of COVID-19 within the program.

It was a bittersweet conclusion to the season, and Sanders had to deliver the news to his team.

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"When I was addressing the team this morning, I had a lot of thoughts in my mind because it came to such an abrupt ending," he said. "One of the things that I thought about, that I shouldn't have thought about, was my pastor that passed because you think you have more time.

"Many kids were sitting in that same situation like 'man, I wish I would've, could've, should've.' We've had quite some time for them to prove themselves."

The Tigers only played six games. They also received a win in a forfeit from Alcorn State, which opted out of the season before it began, and the Prairie View game first was postponed on March 28 because of COVID-19 within the Panthers' program before ultimately being canceled.

"It happened," Sanders said of the cancellation, "and the guys are not happy by any means, coaches as well. But it is what it is. We've got to do what's best for the kids and protect them at all costs."

A player tested positive and others had symptoms, so out of an abundance of caution, Sanders and his staff shut things down.

The Tigers are still training, studying and ending the semester under the guidance and tutelage of Sanders. 

"They have to finish strong," he said. "They still have exams. We want them to finish strong, and there's an expectation for them to finish strong.

While his players are still learning, though, Sanders said his first year has been a learning experience for he and his staff.

"We saw some things that we wish that we hadn't seen," he said. "We saw some things that we're thankful that we did see because now we know how to proceed with caution. We're happy that we had this season. We're happy that we got six games out of it."

A typical year takes teams about 13 weeks to get in a 12-game schedule. In comparison, it took Jackson State 10 weeks to play just six games. Those six games were the most in the SWAC heading into the final week, which was built into the schedule as a make-up week before the SWAC championship on May 1.

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It's a game that will be without Jackson State, but that doesn't mean that expectations won't be high for the Tigers starting in September for a new season. And Sanders won't let anyone forget that.

"You know what he have in the cupboard," he said.

That cupboard consists of the highest-rated recruiting class in SWAC history and transfers who weren't eligible for the spring.

But those players will have to wait, as will the fans, to see if the expectations come to fruition. There will be many headlines written and many stories told, but come Sept. 5 in Miami against SWAC newcomer Florida A&M, expectations have to begin to meet reality for Sanders and his program.