The hype has justified hope for Jackson State football.
In the 456 days since the Tigers last competed, the program — the town in which it calls home, its historic campus, and Black college football — has been transformed.
Not in recent memory has an HBCU football program been under this level of scrutiny.
The good kind.
This — all of this — the national TV mentions, the social media gaze, the best recruiting class an FCS school has ever assembled and the whereabouts of his boombox is thanks to the hire of Deion Sanders.
A Pro Football Hall of Fame player and hall of fame self-marketing savant who decided that Jackson State — a school that had not mounted a winning season in eight years — was a worthy choice to embark on a professional and social journey to change the fortunes of a football program and the collegiate matrix.
That’s just about all we know at this point.
What we have yet to find out is whether what has taken place since Sanders’ introductory press conference last September, is how good — or not — this team is. And how good — or not — Sanders is as a head coach.
Jackson State, as mentioned, compiled a strong recruiting class made up of FBS transfers, multiple star high schoolers, and junior college studs combined with a pretty solid group of mainstays.
On paper, JSU would seem to be in a position to ascend from its meager 4-win total of 2019. The outcome of the seven games (or more) the Tigers will play obviously determine that.
There will be struggles, starts and fits simply due to a new coaching staff needing to develop continuity with players and the long COVID-induced layoff that makes transitioning into a well-oiled machine — no matter how promising the parts — difficult.
But the nuts and bolts football analysis of it all is not why most are paying attention to the Sanders-led outfit.
Edward Waters, Sunday’s opponent, is immaterial, too. Jackson State is expected and should win with little issue.
It’s the anticipation of what could be in the immediate future. How Jackson State will look in the months and years beyond one day in late February.
What Sanders has carried with him more so than the recognizable name, the recruits, and the media illumination is this unbridled belief and confidence that this chapter in Jackson State football is supposed to fruitful under the “I Believe” mantra the squad has embraced.
You can sense it in how the players conduct themselves in interviews, how that familiar swagger that defines the fan base is more entrenched, and in the way in which the community reacts as it relates to this seismic shift.
While it’s understood there are no guarantees in sports because nothing ever is, what can be fairly assessed is that trip is going to be an important yet fun one.