Minutes after Jackson State suffered a humbling 31-10 loss to South Carolina State in the Celebration Bowl last December, Deion Sanders made a promise.
On that cold Atlanta afternoon, he watched his offensive line — a sore spot throughout 2021 — be unable to protect quarterback Shedeur Sanders or help establish a running game to alleviate the pressure of an inspired Bulldogs defense. The head coach also witnessed the defensive line — one of the strengths of the 22-man unit — underperform.
So, in the bowels of Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Sanders assured what led to the Tigers’ second loss of the season — in the biggest game of the year — wouldn’t happen again.
“What happened today, I could fix that,” he said then. “I’m going to fix that. I’m already in the process of fixing that. I know the problems and I got the solutions.”
In the offseason, Sanders and his staff went on the attack in recruiting by picking up five offensive lineman in the transfer portal, including four from the FBS ranks.
Zach Breaux (Louisiana Monroe), Simi Moala (Utah), and Evan Henry (Lousiana Monroe) were each listed as 3-star recruits and average 6-foot-3 inches in height and weigh 316.5 pounds.
“We addressed the shortcomings we ended with last year,” said Sanders at SWAC football media day. “We needed a little bit more beef upfront (and) we had to get people off (Shedeur Sanders’) back like we saw several times last season.
“You may not even see a starter (this year) that was starting last season on the offensive line when we kick off against FAMU.”
And it’s not just the offensive line that is expected to be reshaped going into the fall. After losing NFL Draft pick James Houston, Sanders identified that the defensive line and back seven needed an upgrade, too.
“We knew we needed some pressure in the front — James Houston was a wonderful talent … I feel like we have four of those,” he said. “We got some push up in the front — we got eight of those.”
The secondary is expected to be ball-hawking with the addition of Travis Hunter to go along with All-SWAC First Team defensive back Shilo Sanders and All-SWAC Second Team defensive back Cam’Ron Silman-Craig.
The wholesale changes throughout the depth chart, said Sanders, were because he “saw holes in our armor and holes in our game.”
Jackson State is the preseason favorite to win the SWAC East, the conference title, and the Celebration Bowl.
After going unbeaten in league play in 2021 and just losing twice overall, how good will JSU be after the roster reconstruction?
“We’ll be good,” said Sanders. “There is nothing else to say.”