3 keys for a successful Jackson State football season in Year 2 under Deion Sanders

Rashad Milligan
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

As the Jackson State football team is in the midst of fall practice, there are a few things the group must focus on to improve from this past spring season. 

The Tigers finished the spring 4-3, which included a forfeited victory against opt-out Alcorn State. Southwestern Athletic Conference coaches and sports information directors picked JSU to finish third in its division in the SWAC preseason poll, but the fan expectation around Deion Sanders' program remains high.

"Not only do you expect us to win," Sanders said, while looking at reporters on SWAC Media Day in July. "We're the only team in the country where people expect in the first year to win."

The expectation not only comes with having a Pro Football Hall of Famer as the program's coach, but signing the No. 1 recruiting class in Jackson State history. Here are three keys the reloaded roster needs to accomplish in fall camp to set itself up for a successful fall.

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Team chemistry

Not only has Jackson State bring in a stout recruiting class by JSU standards, it ranks  as the top class in the FCS. The Tigers have the No. 55 ranked recruiting class in all of college football, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, as well.

That said, games still cannot be won on paper.

In 2020, Grambling State had the highest-rated recruiting class in the SWAC, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, and finished 0-4 this past spring. On a talented roster with mostly new faces in the rotation, Jackson State is going to have to learn how to play together for a chance to go undefeated in the SWAC East division.

The Tigers will be tasked early when they take on SWAC-newcomer Florida A&M in the season opener. In the preseason poll, FAMU was selected to finish one slot ahead of JSU in the East standings.

Offensive line

JSU got sacked the second-most times in the SWAC (14 in six games) this past spring.

The front five should have a fresh look this fall, led by Missouri transfer Dylan Spencer. Spencer has publicly been named one of the team's first two starters, along with freshman quarterback Shedeur Sanders.

Jackson State quarterback Shedeur Sanders talks with Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu at the Deion Sanders football camp at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium on June 18, 2021.

Spencer, a Madison Central graduate, announced his transfer to JSU last fall but was ineligible to play this past spring. Other new faces on the offensive line include former Southern Miss lineman Tre Johnson as well as three-star freshmen Javonte Gardner and Charles Armstrong.

Getting off the field

Getting the defense off the field will be crucial for the Tigers. JSU ranked seventh out of nine SWAC teams in allowing opponents to convert 40% of third-down  attempts. The Tigers ranked eighth in the conference allowing opponents to convert 54.5% on fourth-down as well.

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The new faces on the defense joining preseason All-SWAC linebackers Keonte Hampton and Aubrey Miller Jr. include former Tennessee walk-on Nyles Gaddy and USC linebacker Abdul Malik-McClain coming off the edges, Florida grad transfer James Houston IV at linebacker, former Georgia Tech defensive lineman Antwan Owens, former Auburn defensive lineman Coynis Miller and four-star freshman KaTron Evans.

Contact Rashad Milligan at 601-862-6198 or Jmilligan@gannett.com. Follow @RashadMilligan on Twitter.