In early December, ESPN announced that Deion Sanders was leaving Jackson State University to coach at the University of Colorado. He would be vacating his position as coach after the team played in the Celebration Bowl later that month.
This announcement sparked multiple discussions on the future of the Southwestern Athletic Conference and the JSU Tigers, which had been conference champs two straight years under Sanders and with Sanders’ son as the star quarterback. Sanders also received a lot of feedback for his decision as it was considered controversial, and some were not sure about his reasons for leaving.
In response to his critics, Sanders said at a news conference, “I’m a change agent. When we leave, you’re gonna find out what all we did. Because they don’t really talk about the positivity until we go. You gone find out what all we did for Jackson State and all we wanted to do for Jackson State.”
With Sanders’ departure, it raises the question: Will the Tigers continue to hold their spot as the No. 1 team in the SWAC?
The Rattlers were second in the eastern division of the conference for the past two years. Will they be able to gain the No. 1 spot this season?
Coach Willie Simmons described how FAMU continues to work hard in the off-season and their plans for improvement.
“Our focus is on the little things that make the difference between good and great, ” Simmons said.
So far, the Rattlers have maintained a pretty great track record for the past three seasons. Though they did not make it to the playoffs this year, the team has continued to make strides when it comes to football at HBCUs.
“We know to reach the level of dominance we’re capable of, it’s going to take us to take everything to the next level. Our goal is to approach every day with a purpose and be committed to dominating whatever task is before us,” Simmons said.
He also mentioned that as a team, they haven’t really focused on Sanders’ time in the SWAC or his departure. Simmons said he appreciates the traction that Sanders has brought to HBCUs and that he and his players respect every team in the conference. Simmons and the Rattlers also expect Jackson State to continue to be a formidable opponent in the upcoming seasons.
Elijah Townsend-Avella, a transfer student at FAMU, said he thinks his school has to improve if it wants to dominate.
“I personally believe that the Rattlers will be the second team within the conference once again if our players don’t develop faster or we bring in more recruits. The Rattlers have a chance at dethroning JSU this upcoming year, and I believe in Coach Simmons and company, but if FAMU doesn’t make some noise in this year’s recruitment, then we’ll continue to be second in the conference.”
The Rattlers’ next game is against the Tigers in September, and fans will be excited to see the team’s progress and how JSU will perform without Sanders on the sidelines — or behind center.