Deion Sanders’ contagious swagger has Colorado players believing they can be great


FORT WORTH, Texas — Deion Sanders has receipts.

He remembers everyone who doubted him when he was hired by Colorado last December. He can recall faces and names of reporters and broadcasters and coaches and players and literally anyone who ever said something negative about him and his coaching style.

He even pointed at an ESPN personality on Saturday afternoon, after his Buffaloes pulled off a 45-42 upset over No. 17 TCU on the road, asking him over and over: “Do you believe?”

And so that’s why when Coach Prime walked into the post-game press conference area — which was a small makeshift corner in the bowels of Amon G. Carter Stadium just outside the rowdy visitor’s locker room — he wanted everyone there to know something.

“I’ve got receipts,” Sanders said.

As has been greatly documented, upon arrival in Boulder last December, Sanders blew up his roster. Dozens of players from last year’s 1-11 team were encouraged to leave and then replaced by 86 new players, 70 on scholarship, 57 of which were added via transfer portal after the Buffaloes’ spring game. When all was said and done, only nine scholarship players from 2022 remained.

What kind of product would Colorado put on the field this season with the players still getting to know each other? How quickly would they form a cohesive unit and win games? There was plenty of skepticism around the country and Sanders heard it all.

What does the future hold for Colorado, TCU?

What does the future hold for Colorado, TCU?

Luckily for college football, the new-look Buffs’ debut was a biggie — paying a visit to TCU, the national championship runners-up. This was a chance for Coach Prime and his newly created team to make a statement.

And that’s exactly what they did, pulling off a victory late in the fourth quarter.

“I mean, I knew we were going to do this,” said starting quarterback Shedeur Sanders, Coach Prime’s son, who later added that this game felt “just like practice.”

“The only difference between FCS and this level is the D-line gets off the blocks when you’re trying to scramble faster. That’s it.”

Sanders, who won two FCS titles at Jackson State playing for his dad, completed 38 of 47 passes for a school-record 510 yards and four touchdowns. He spread the ball around, hitting four different receivers who racked up more than 100 yards apiece. His brother, Shilo Sanders, was the team’s joint-leading tackler with 10.

The star of Colorado’s show, though, was Travis Hunter, a former five-star prospect and No. 1 overall recruit last season. He put on a marvelous performance, playing both wide receiver — where he had 11 catches for 119 yards — and cornerback — where he made three tackles, broke up a pass, and had a jaw-dropping diving interception. According to Pro Football Focus, Hunter played 129 snaps in 100-degree heat. He said afterward that his previous snap record was 120 in high school.

Deion Sanders, Colorado make a huge statement

Deion Sanders, Colorado make a huge statement

After the game, Hunter purposefully changed into a black T-shirt that featured at least seven different pictures of Deion Sanders from his days as a player with the Dallas Cowboys, where he won one of his two Super Bowls. While some players say they don’t pay attention to social media, this group has certainly taken on their coach’s personality in just a short time together.

“Nobody believed in us,” Hunter said, echoing what his coach and teammates had also said. “The only people who believed in us were the people in the facility. Everyone doubted my coach, which is why I’m wearing [this shirt] right now. We believe.”

During the off-season, Hunter proudly said he should be a Heisman Trophy front-runner. He double-downed on that statement Saturday, but if he continues to perform as he did against the Horned Frogs, that kind of accolade could take care of itself.

“It’s fun,” Hunter said of playing both ways. “It’s hard on your body, but that’s what you got treatment for. I like going out there. I didn’t get a touchdown today, but I got an interception, so that’s going to help my stats, and it’s going to help the team, and helping the team is what I want to do.”

Added Sanders, who views Hunter like a son: “Travis is him, like the young folks say. That’s it. I really think we got a couple guys who could be front-runners for the Heisman right now. That’s how I feel. Who [else] did what they did today?”

Watch: All the top highlights from wild Colorado victory

Watch: All the top highlights from wild Colorado victory

Now the question becomes, how long can the Buffs keep this shtick going? They clearly have the skill and talent to be in the national conversation. But this is only the first game of the season and things do not get easier. Next week, Colorado hosts Nebraska in its home opener, then faces No. 15 Oregon (on the road) and No. 6 USC (at home) before the end of September. No. 18 Oregon State and No. 14 Utah loom later on. 

There are things to work on — Shedeur Sanders missed Hunter on a few deep balls, and the defense allowed the Frogs to pile up 541 yards of offense — but team chemistry seems on point even with Coach Prime previously stating that he doesn’t care about culture or unity. After the final whistle, players were skipping from the field into the locker room together. They were blaring rap music. They were hugging and high-fiving each other and celebrating the win.

As far as the receipts he’s been keeping, Sanders said he’s not “vindictive” and won’t let outside noise hang over the season. But when it comes to his unorthodox tactics in building a program, he remains unapologetic.

“I tell them to turn on the film,” Sanders said. “We’re going to continuously be questioned because we do things that have never been done. We do things that have never been done and that makes people uncomfortable. But guess what, we’re going to consistently do what we do. Because I’m here, and I ain’t going nowhere.

“These young men, they believe. Not all of them believed before, but they came up, one by one, two by two, [to say] ‘Coach, we believe.’ Now they believe. Boulder believes. People in the front office, people in the building, the fans, the students.

“Now, everybody wants to believe. And we’ve got room.”

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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