Deion Sanders, Jackson State
Photo: Deion Sanders/Twitter

National Signing Day historically for HBCU football has been uneventful.

But Deion Sanders and Jackson State on Wednesday made the most significant grab in the history of the college football recruiting industry by landing No. 1 overall recruit Travis Hunter from the grasp of Florida State in a shocking move.

Hunter was the top-rated prospect according to 247Sports metrics and the No. 2 overall prospect in ESPN’s high school recruit rankings. A dual-position athlete, Hunter is a five-star wide receiver and defensive back.

Also read: Jackson State gets commit from No. 1 high school recruit Travis Hunter

It is not unusual of a commit to flip from one school to another. But it’s a totally new level for such a recruit to jump from a Power Five school to an HBCU.

Not since integration has an HBCU acquired an athlete could be considered the No. 1 talent in the country.

Hunter changing college football by flipping from FSU to Jackson State could be a preview of what’s to come. Or it could be a blip on the radar. Whatever the case, HBCUs are now at least in the conversation.

“This brings more attention to HBCU football,” said HBCU Gameday contributor BJ Jones. “But let’s not get it twisted … the No. 1 benefactor from that is going to be Jackson State. I know we have this narrative that this is going to be great for all HBCUs, but we’ve been saying it a lot without seeing the tangible evidence of that.

“I think what it does is put everyone else on alert that you have to step up your game, and if you continue to do business the way you have, you’re going to get left behind.”

Jackson State, however, isn’t in unfamiliar territory. Last year, the school signed the best class in the history of the FCS in 2021, including landing the No. 1 JUCO recruit, De’Jahn Warren — a flip from Georgia. Under Sanders, JSU has transformed its program, going 11-1 overall and 8-0 in the SWAC. The Tigers will play for the Black College National Championship on Saturday at Cricket Celebration Bowl in Atlanta against South Carolina State.

Sanders had been demanding, if not forcefully willing, that the playing field between HBCUs and the rest of the college sports world be leveled. The results have seemed to come to fruition.

“This is a big deal. It’s actually probably the biggest deal in terms of the modern era of (recruiting),” said Maliik Obee, a writer with DraftHBCUPlayers. “We should not let anyone undermine it or downplay it. We’ve never seen an HBCU coach have the opportunity to swoop in a steal a player of this magnitude in the social media era.”

‘We won’t know what the impact is for a while’

But could another HBCU coach, say Hue Jackson at Grambling State, Fred McNair at Alcorn State, or even Eddie George at Tennessee land a five-star player straight out of high school?

“Time will have to tell,” said Duane Nash of The Yard HBCU Sports. “Now let’s see if we start to get more five-star athletes that are ranked in the top 100 coming over. I’m impressed that there is one. I’m hoping that HBCUs are ready for it.”

Wednesday was unlike anything anyone associated with college recruiting or HBCU athletics had ever seen on record. The question now remains is will there be a trickle-down effect for Black colleges and university athletic programs across America?

“We won’t know what the impact is for a while,” said Jones. “We did the same thing with (Makur) Maker at Howard. We have to wait and see. I think the biggest thing is you’re starting to see the more highly rated kids consider HBCUs.

“Overall, I think it’s wait and see. There is some positive momentum going but we have to keep it going in the right direction.”


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