When a Colorado State punt rolled out of bounds at the 2-yard line with just over two minutes to go last Saturday night, leaving Colorado in need of a 98-yard drive to tie the game, Darrell Colbert Jr. — the longtime personal QB coach for Buffaloes quarterback Shedeur Sanders— had just one thought.
“I was hoping the ball went out at the 1 so it could be a 99-yard drive,” he joked.
Colbert, who has trained Sanders since high school, had no doubt about what would come next. He’d seen it before. In December, at the Celebration Bowl, there was more time on the clock (four minutes, 31 seconds) and less ground to cover (81 yards), but the stakes were the same: Lead the team downfield to force overtime. Sanders did just that to bring Jackson State even with North Carolina Central, but the Tigers lost in overtime.
This time, Sanders went all the way, leading Colorado to a thrilling 43-35 win over its in-state rival in double overtime.
“At no point did he think they were going to lose that game,” Colbert said. “When he walked out there, he wasn’t worried. It was just like another drive.”
As millions tune in to see Deion Sanders’ Buffs each week, the legend of his son the starting quarterback grows. From Shedeur’s eye-popping Power 5 debut against TCU to the John Elway-esque drive in the Rocky Mountain Showdown on Saturday, more people are learning just how skilled and steeled the junior quarterback is. His father always knew, which prompted Deion Sanders’ recent retort to a reporter’s question about Shedeur breaking a Colorado record for passing yards in a debut.
“For real? Shedeur Sanders? From an HBCU? The one that played at Jackson (State) last year?” Sanders said following the TCU win. “The one that you asked me why would you give him the starting job?”
It doesn’t surprise Colbert, either. He has had an extended up-close view of Shedeur’s development like few have, and he has played a role in the quarterback’s growth through their annual offseason work together.
“Since I’ve been around him, he’s been that same guy every single time,” Colbert said.
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Personal quarterback coaches are commonplace. Name a college quarterback, and chances are he has a private coach or two that he works with in the offseason when away from his team. The industry is more than three decades old and has engulfed the sport from youth football all the way to the pro ranks.
Colbert got into training after his own playing days concluded. He had a decorated prep career at Lamar High in Houston, an all-state quarterback who took his team to a state championship game appearance in Texas’ largest classification in 2012. It was a significant feat: Lamar was the first Houston ISD school to appear in a state championship game in more than 20 years. The only thing that stopped Colbert and his teammates from hoisting the trophy was powerhouse Allen High and its quarterback at the time, Kyler Murray.
Because of his size — Colbert was listed at 5-foot-10 — colleges didn’t flood his inbox with offers. SMU was the first to give the three-star recruit a chance, and Colbert eventually signed there. That’s where he met Deion Sanders Jr., his teammate on the Hilltop for three seasons. Colbert transferred to finish his career at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, and led the Cardinals to their first FCS playoff appearance, but the friendship Colbert and Deion Jr. established at SMU remains to this day.
When they were at SMU, a middle school-aged Shedeur would stop by campus occasionally to work out and throw with Colbert, and the two developed a relationship.
“We just became cool,” Colbert. “He would come down to Houston in the offseason and he would call me to come pick him up so we could work out. It just kind of grew from there.”
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After Colbert’s final season at Lamar, he trained for his pro day under Jerrod Johnson, a former Texas A&M quarterback. Johnson, who is now the quarterbacks coach for the Houston Texans, asked Colbert if he would be interested in training quarterbacks himself. Colbert took him up on it and fell in love with the work. He started his own training business, Select QB Athletics.
To recruit his first clients, Colbert sat in his living room and typed up a message in the Notes app on his phone, describing who he was and what he did. He Googled names of high school quarterbacks throughout Houston and spent hours direct-messaging them on Twitter. He got one response, from Cameron McCalister, who played at Clear Brook High School and is now at McNeese.
Slowly but surely, through social media and word of mouth, his client list grew. Former Houston and Miami quarterback D’Eriq King, former Florida quarterback Kyle Trask and current Virginia Tech quarterback Kyron Drones all began working with Colbert. He said he now works with anywhere between 90 and 110 quarterbacks in the summer, and his full client roster is about 160 players, with ages ranging from six years old to pros. And Sanders isn’t Colbert’s only Pac-12 quarterback client. He also trains Washington State quarterback Cameron Ward.
But Sanders was always there. Since 2019, when Colbert launched Select QB, not an offseason has gone by without the two working together. Colbert has had a hand in helping Shedeur make the transition from high school to Jackson State, then from the FCS ranks to the Power 5 at Colorado.
The quarterback’s poise, preparedness and maturity have helped ease the transition, Colbert said. The drive against Colorado State showed that big moments aren’t too much for him, but Colbert saw it all the way back to Sanders’ freshman year, when he started and threw for 30 touchdowns to lead Jackson State to a SWAC championship and won the Jerry Rice Award as the most outstanding freshman player in the FCS.
“Regardless if it’s FBS or FCS, playing as a freshman is tough anywhere,” Colbert said. “He doesn’t get rattled by anything.”
The way he prepares each week also traces back to his HBCU days. “Since his freshman year, he’s done a great job of understanding and preparing for what the coaches are trying to do, why they’re calling what they’re calling and trying to understand what defenses are doing,” Colbert said. “He wants to know the ins and outs of every play. ‘If they do this, what’s our answer?’”
Colbert saw maturity in Shedeur’s decision-making late against Colorado State. Every throw that was short of the first-down marker was outside the hashes, so receivers could get out of bounds. The only middle-of-the-field throws were past the line, which would allow the clock to stop and conserve time.
“It was exciting to watch, how he saw everything,” Colbert said. “He didn’t take any sacks (on that drive). I could see things he was thinking beforehand or why he did what he did. It was him going out there and being who he is.”
Sanders has always been accurate, Colbert said, but he’s even more so now, and his anticipation has improved. This offseason they worked on cleaning up mechanics.
“We focused on shortening up his stride and his step when he’s throwing the ball,” Colbert said. “Being consistent with his separation and getting his elbow up when he’s throwing. A lot of those little things.
“Everybody can do that stuff when you’re standing still. But doing all those things with game-like movements, simulating game-like pressure and being able to do those things consistently is what we focused on this offseason.”
Colbert, who has been on the sideline for each of Colorado’s first three games, can see the improvement. Shedeur learns quickly, he said, and the tweaks have become second nature. “He’s not even thinking about those things anymore,” Colbert said. “Those have improved a lot since his freshman and sophomore years.”
One play that stood out to Colbert this season: a fourth-quarter touchdown at TCU where Sanders scrambled to his left, quickly flipped his hips, set his feet just before a TCU defender closed in and delivered a strike to open receiver Jimmy Horn Jr.
“That’s something we worked on countless times,” Colbert said.
Sanders made an almost identical throw the following week against Nebraska.
Sanders’ best physical trait? Colbert said it’s his pocket awareness. The quarterback can deftly take a step or two to create a throwing lane without bailing from the pocket. And when he does, he’s not looking to run first. Despite his mobility, Sanders doesn’t take off at the first sign of pressure.
“He is always trying to complete a pass,” Colbert said. “It takes him a long time to run. He’s really waiting until the last minute before taking off.
“They have those (receivers) on the outside for a reason. They want the ball in their hands and it makes it a lot easier on him.”
Colbert said he occasionally looks back at videos from Sanders’ freshman year and notices “a whole different guy” now. Entering Week 4, Sanders sits second in the FBS in passing yards (1,251), fourth in completion percentage (78.7) and tied for first in completions (107), with a 10-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
It’s safe to say that Coach Prime is pleased with the work Colbert has done with Shedeur. After the quarterback recently won three player-of-the-week awards, Colbert posted a graphic listing those honors on the Select QB Instagram account as an homage. Deion commented, “Best QB coach in the game.”
By November, Colbert thinks Shedeur will be even better than he is now. And there’s no doubt in his mind that Sanders will be successful whenever he heads to the NFL.
“I think this is just the beginning,” Colbert said. “The sky’s the limit.”
(Photos courtesy of Darrell Colbert Jr.)