The internet was set ablaze last week when Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders was announced as the new head coach at the University of Colorado. After leading Jackson State to a 26-5 record including back-to-back SWAC titles over the past three seasons in addition to landing top-tier talent including the No. 1-ranked player in high school Travis Hunter, it seemed as if Coach Prime was building not only an HBCU powerhouse, but a college football powerhouse. That all came to an abrupt end when the Colorado Buffaloes announced him as the 28th head coach in their program last Saturday night.
Prime Time’s departure sparked a heated debate on social media and television on whether he used HBCU’s for his own gain or sold a false dream. From names like Shannon Sharpe or Bomani Jones, there were split opinions of the perception of Sanders’ new opportunity.
While everyone ran to social media to spew their opinions and think-pieces on the situation, there was minimal discourse on how the Jackson State players feel about Deion’s move. Everyone was stuck on Coach Prime and while he is the focal point of the story, there’s another aspect that hasn’t been told yet. Do the players feel like Deion used them? Do the players feel backstabbed or betrayed that Deion sold them a false dream?
”I don’t understand why people don’t see the positive,” senior defensive back Isaiah Bolden says. “Coach Prime came out of his pocket to built a great HBCU locker room… He did what he said he was going to do. He put HBCUs on the map in my opinion.”
We sat down with three Jackson State football players, Isaiah Bolden, Jurriente Davis, and Jason Mercier to talk about the moment Coach Prime told them he was leaving, how they feel about the internet reaction, and more.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
How’d you end up at JSU?
Isaiah Bolden (from Florida State): Pretty much I was in the portal once we got a new coach at FSU. Me and him didn’t hop off to a good start. I was leaning toward Texas A&M. Pretty much, Coach Prime called me and he talked for an hour. After we talked, I made my decision to go with him. He told me how he can get me to the next level by teaching me how to be better. That sold me, I ain’t gonna lie to you. When the GOAT call your phone, why not go with him?
Jurriente Davis (Middle Tennessee State): What people don’t know is, they offered me in 2020 during COVID when I was in JUCO. I was gonna commit but I didn’t commit because I felt like I had some unfinished business. I wanted to win a national championship in JUCO and that’s what we did. Fast forward to me hitting the portal out of Middle Tennessee… Coach Hart, the linebackers coach, hit me up and asked ‘are you gonna come or not?’ I said I wanna to talk to the head coach and see what his thoughts are about me. And that’s what he did, he got Coach Prime on the phone and Prime said ‘I wanna see some practice film.’ I sent him the practice film and he said ‘yeah, we want you to be a part of this defense.’ They actually offered me a scholarship already but it feels a little bit different coming from Primetime. He got me and it became one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Jason Mercier (Florida International): I knew somebody who knew Coach Prime. It was pretty much already sewed up. He liked what I could do and thought I was pretty dominant. He took a chance. Obviously, I had other options but I felt like this was the best option for me because it’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity to be at a HBCU, somewhere I really wanted to always be at and play on a large platform like we just did. I wanted to be coached better by one of the best.
What was your initial reaction when Coach Prime told you he’s leaving?
Jason Mercier: The way I looked at it was this has been going on forever. I just felt like this was big deal to Black folk but to PWIs, these changes have been going on forever. Like myself, I came to JSU from a coaching change. I already knew what it was already. All I know is when I heard he did get the job, I was happy for him. That’s big. Some young guys were hurt by it but the older guys, we already know what it is. It was good for him and his family. Especially with Shedeur, this will give Shedeur an even bigger platform now. We already had a big platform (at JSU) but the way that it’s looking over there now, it’s an even bigger platform. It gives him a challenge to show everybody what he got. I know people have been doubting him because he’s been at a HBCU but let’s see what he does in the PAC12, I’m sure he’s going to dominate there too.
Jurriente Davis: I’m not mad at Coach Prime for doing what he did because at the end of the day, you gotta evolve. You gotta elevate. He said ‘look y’all, this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life’ and I believe him. He said ‘it’s not because of the decision I’m making, it’s because of the decision that all of you guys have to make when I’m gone and that’s what stresses me out the most.’ That hit me. I’m not mad at my head coach… We still not finished, we got the Celebration Bowl. It’s so many things going through players’ minds, it’s gon be hard to focus on the game when you got your coach on Instagram in a different outfit. It’s different. Tomorrow morning we have practice like nothing’s changed and it’s going to be awkward honestly. That’s how I feel. All I can do is control what I control.
Isaiah Bolden: I mean, we saw all the rumors on social media. Our guys assumed. We were kinda just waiting for him to tell us. When he told me, I don’t know if I was shocked. To me I understood why. He was trying to put his people on. I wasn’t mad at that at all. I just understood his reasoning. I wasn’t mad. I seen the sacrifices the assistants and GAs made throughout the year. I was one of his first guys to come so I have seen the program from the worst to now. I definitely understood. Our staff was very underpaid in my opinion.
There’s been a heated debate on social media on Deion leaving. What are you thoughts on the backlash Coach Prime has received from this?
Jurriente Davis: Social media gon’ be social media at the end of the day. People gon’ bash you. I look at it like this, if you don’t got nobody talking about you, you ain’t doing something right. It’s a lot of people like Shannon Sharpe and Stephen A. Smith, they all talking about it. I just know it’s pros and cons to everything. We knew as the team the world was gonna blow up. I know the culture is shocked right now especially Jackson State culture. Some people look at it like a hit to the face but some people look at it like a good thing. Even being here from January, he’s changed the culture a lot. A lot of people might look over that as far as the locker room. He used his whole salary to put that money into the locker room. Coach Prime didn’t use Jackson State, he had to elevate. If Coach Prime left 10 years from now, people would probably still bash him.
Jason Mercier: I understand where they’re coming from but like I said, it’s been going on. I don’t know why people act like it’s something new. It’s been going on, not with just him. He did it for a good reason. From my opinion, it was a great decision he made. I feel like social media has been wrong to do that in the first place. They shouldn’t be bad-talking him, he did a lot to get this far. I don’t know the last time I’ve seen College Gameday at an HBCU. I don’t understand why people are bad-talking him. He did a good job. On top of that, people still have exposure because of him. Just because he left doesn’t mean they’re going to stop looking at guys here. He really just put more eyes on the guys and it’s on them to see what they wanna do with it. He opened the doors.
Isaiah Bolden: I don’t understand why people don’t see the positive. Coach Prime came out of his pocket to built a great HBCU locker room, almost like a Power 5 locker room. The whole money thing didn’t make sense to me. Even right now, it’s not the money for him. It’s more to put his people on. That’s how I see it. He did what he said he was going to do. He put HBCUs on the map in my opinion. Every time on social media, you see Jackson State and now everybody wants to come to Jackson State. It’s time for him to elevate and go to Colorado. I just think people need to see the positive instead of harping on the negative. Coach Prime is a great dude. People don’t understand how he thinks because he’s just that guy. One thing Coach Prime tells us all the time is that he’s loyal to winning. He benched Shilo (Sanders) a numerous amount of times, his own blood. His loyalty is winning. The bashing on Coach Prime is crazy to me.
Have you thought about if you’re staying or going?
Jason Mercier: I’m declaring to the league this year. If I did have a chance, if he’d take me with him, I really would. The type of person he is is just different. Coming from a person who was the best at this sports for real, it’s different hearing the things he say to and knowing that everything is true. It hits you harder. It’s motivation to see this man come talk to you everyday.
Jurriente Davis: Right now, my thought process is getting everybody right for this game because we have to win this. As far as my decision, right now I don’t know what I’m going to do but I’m leaning toward hitting the transfer portal but there’s a lot of thoughts in my head. If I do stay and succeed, it’s like ‘damn, I didn’t need Coach Prime.’ That’s one of my side brain but the other side is thinking like ‘man, I got enough film. I can leave as a grad transfer. I know I’m a great linebacker so it’s an opportunity to take my talent somewhere else.’ Right now, it’s a lot weighing on me right now. I’ll make my next decision my best move.
Isaiah Bolden: I could tell you this much. I’m between either going to Colorado or declaring for the NFL Draft right now. Those are two things I’m looking at right now. They just picked up my former coach, coach Taggart, that’s my guy right there. I’m going to my parents about it and we’re gonna go from there.