For most teams, that would have created tremendous unrest within the program, especially with an important bowl game with national championship stakes on the horizon versus North Carolina Central in Atlanta.
But for Jackson State, Sanders’ decision and how it impacts the program moving forward is on the back burner. The ultimate focus now, said assistant coach Gary Harrell, is completing the task of redeeming last season’s loss to South Carolina State and completing a 13-0 season.
“Last year really motivated us to get back to this point where we are because we do have unfinished business,” Harrell said Thursday during the pre-game Celebration Bowl press conference in place of an absent Sanders. “Everyday Coach Prime comes in with a word and that word is focus and finish.”
Jackson State has not lost since its 31-10 defeat to the Bulldogs in an outcome that inspired Sanders and his staff to overhaul and upgrade the key positions to ensure such a setback would not happen again.
Sanders has preached domination all year and JSU has done just that. The Tigers have won by an average of 24.5 points per game and boast the No. 1 defense in the FCS in addition to a top-10 offense led by SWAC Offensive Player of the Year and Walter Payton Award candidate Shedeur Sanders.
Though the thinking from outside the Jackson State football complex might be the Tigers will be distracted by all the noise around them — and even complacency of being favorites — that is not the case assured Harrell.
“Anything that goes on outside the university does not bother them,” he said. “We’ve been through a water crisis and we’ve been through the pandemic and these guys continue to thrive. It’s not about the people outside the team. It’s about these young men … it’s their university.
“As long as they show up in their uniforms with their logo on their chest and names on their back, that’s all we care about.”