Sanders is coming off a historic season where he helped lead Jackson State to an 11-1 record, an undefeated run in conference play, and the program’s first SWAC championship since 2007.
The four-star recruit went on to be named SWAC Freshman of the Year and win the Jerry Rice Award for top FCS freshman, a first for an HBCU player. With another year of experience under his belt to go along with an improved running attack with transfer Sy’Veon Wilkerson and a wide receiver outfit that will include Malachi Wideman and No. 1 recruit Travis Hunter as possible targets, Sanders should easily surpass his impressive numbers from a year ago.
Defensive Player of the Year — Isaiah Land
After briefly entering the transfer portal in the offseason, Florida A&M defensive menace Isaiah Land will look to improve on a 19-sack 2021 campaign that earned him the Buck Buchanan Award. Land, a senior will be thrown into a leadership role on an evolving defense after the absence of safety Markquese Bell. Asked to do more could propel Land to a stronger season and more accolades, including surpassing the single-season FAMU sack record and trying to lead the Rattlers to a SWAC championship.
Newcomer of the Year — Jamari Jones
Mississippi Valley State might have found its quarterback in junior college transfer Jamari Jones, tabbed as the nation’s No.1 small college signal-caller in the country. At East Mississippi Community College, Jones threw for 2,728 yards and 33 touchdowns a year ago. The Delta Devils quarterbacks in 2021 totaled 1,847 yards and 11 touchdowns. MVSU only won four games last year, and better quarterback play could have resulted in a few more. If Jones can play up to his reputation, there is no reason to believe he can’t be an impact player and lead the Delta Devils into the upper reaches of the SWAC East.
Freshman of the Year — Travis Hunter
We got to see a glimpse of what Travis Hunter is and what he can become during Jackson State’s spring game. He was the elite athlete as advertised, tallying a pair of impressive touchdowns at wide receiver and then intercepting a pass on defense. The two-way player will undoubtedly be among the best offensive and defensive players in the SWAC from the Orange Blossom Classic on if he competes at multiple positions.
Coach of the Year — Deion Sanders
In just two short seasons, Sanders has transformed Jackson State into a budding SWAC powerhouse. The Tigers — in the second year under Sanders — did not lose in conference play en route to a SWAC title and national FCS ranking. JSU isn’t figured to be challenged in 2022, either with a loaded roster of returning players and incoming recruits that has set the program up to be SWAC East favorites for years to come. Can he and the Tigers finish with a SWAC and Black College National Championship this fall?