The day before the start of college football’s early recruitment period, a period during which the nation’s top high school recruits can sign their national letters of intent to play at their chosen colleges, Jackson State Coach Deion Sanders held out his hand.
“Signing day is tomorrow,” Sanders. said. “I’m going to officially tell you guys that we’re shocking the country.”
Less than 24 hours later, Jackson State poached Travis Hunter, who finished first in the 2022 class. 1 recruit 247Sports.comtaking him from Florida State, Sanders’ alma mater, to one of the most significant signings in the modern era of college football recruiting.
Hunter, a versatile 6’1″ cornerback who was verbally in the state of Florida for almost two years, announced on Wednesday that he had changed his mind.
“Everyone knows I’m committed to the State of Florida,” Hunter said in front of a packed class at Collins Hill High School in Suwanee, Georgia. He took a hat with the logo of the Georgia Bulldogs. Many thought that if Hunter backed out of his commitment, he would choose his home state.
He put a Georgia hat on his head.
“I like this one. It suits me,” Hunter said. “But that’s not the one I want to go to.”
He tossed his hat to the right, then unbuttoned his jacket, letting the words “I believe,” the Tigers’ mantra since Sanders’ arrival, peek out.
He then pulled his Jackson State cap firmly over his head, signifying his decision to play football at the historically black college in Mississippi.
Few events on the college football calendar are more important than signing day, when players sign binding agreements that cover their attendance and grant financial aid, and that usually brings the spectacle of flashy press conferences, cheer rallies and crooked balls.
The importance of historical colleges for blacks
HBCUs, or historically black colleges and universities, have long nurtured excellence and a sense of pride and belonging among students.
The transfer of players from one school to another on the day of the signing of the contract has become commonplace. Since the NCAA introduced an early signing period a few years ago, allowing players a couple of days in December to sign their letters of intent prior to the traditional signing period that begins in February, the hiring process has accelerated as more of the country’s elite athletes use these few days to complete your decisions sooner.
In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Hunter said he waived his commitment to Jackson State because it would allow him to “light the way for others.” He added, “Make it a little easier for the next player to understand that HBCU can be everything you want and more.”
More than the on-field talent that Hunter, a five-star prospect, adds to a Jackson State team that had best Southwestern Athletic Conference defense in 2021, his decision sets a precedent that could have long-term implications for HBCU recruitment and is a direct result of Sanders’ influence on Jackson State since his arrival in September 2020.
Sanders, Pro Football Hall of Famer quickly redone a program long since removed from the days when it and other historically black colleges were fertile conduits for professionals.
In the 1960s and 70s, HBCUs were often the only option for black players to play college football, and these colleges regularly sent elite players to the NFL and the American Football League, which at the time was the NFL’s rival.
From the early 1960s to the early 2000s, the Tigers sent almost 90 players to the pros, but like many HBCUs, faced with limited resources, competing with the Power Five’s huge sports budget programs, failed to attract the same level of talent. as once. had. did. As a result, fewer HBCU players have been drafted to the pros in recent years (none in the 2021 draft), something Sanders vowed to change when he arrived at Jackson State.
“This could be a great renaissance, a great renaissance for the HBCU,” Brandon Huffman, 247Sports national recruiting editor, said of Hunter’s commitment. “And I think it all goes back to Deion.”
During his first hiring cycle with the Tigers in 2020, Sanders made one of the most shocking commitments to date, throwing former Georgia promise De’Jan Warren, who was one of the top junior college cornerbacks in the country. the first day of the early signing period last year.
Sanders has assembled the highest-ranked class in the championship football division, the Division I level in which Jackson State plays. The 2020 Tigers class had 19 transfers and the highest-ranked 11 recruits in the program’s history, including his son, Shedeur Sanders, who received four stars.
“This is something that could completely change how recruiting works as we know it,” Huffman said in an interview.
Huffman said he believes the move could allow more national brands to seek sponsorship partnerships with players rather than direct ties to schools.
“And now I think this will give new recruits an even better opportunity to get national brands to believe in their personal brand,” he said, “and not the college brand.”