FORT WORTH, Texas — Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders had to take a moment before he smiled for cameras and began taking questions. He pulled out his phone, turned on the camera and pointed it to his face. But he wasn’t taking a selfie.
He was just getting ready for his closeup.
“I was just making sure I don’t have anything in my teeth,” he said with a smile.
It’s easier to smile after a day like Saturday, and if the Buffaloes’ opener is any guide, there are many more toothy smiles to come.
Shedeur Sanders announced his arrival to major college football in the loudest manner possible, throwing for a school-record 510 yards and four touchdowns to fuel Colorado’s 45-42 upset of last year’s national runner-up TCU as a 20-point underdog.
“For real? Shedeur Sanders? From an HBCU? The one that played at Jackson last year? The one that you asked me why would I give him the starting job?” his father, Colorado coach Deion Sanders, said through another smile in a jam-packed, standing-room-only media room underneath Amon G. Carter Stadium.
Deion Sanders announced Shedeur as Colorado’s starter during his introductory press conference almost nine months ago when Shedeur was still technically on Jackson State’s roster. But although there are still plenty of questions around Shedeur, they’re taking on a very different form after his introduction to America on Saturday.
Can he do this at a major level? is out. How good can he be? is in.
“We got a couple guys who should be frontrunners for the Heisman right now,” Deion Sanders said, referencing Shedeur Sanders and two-way star Travis Hunter, who played 129 snaps according to Pro Football Focus, intercepted a pass at the goal line and led the team with 119 yards on 11 receptions. “That’s how I feel. … Who did that? Who did what they did today?”
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Sanders, who threw for 40 touchdowns and six interceptions while leading Jackson State to a second consecutive SWAC title a season ago, announced his arrival as loudly as the Buffaloes did, marching his offense 73 yards down the field on the opening drive to take a 7-0 lead and raise eyebrows across the country that, if this continues, won’t be lowered anytime soon. No one, from anyone with the last name Sanders to Hunter to freshman running back Dylan Edwards, was surprised by their quarterback’s breakout performance.
“This is how Shedeur practices,” Deion Sanders said.
“Today was just like practice,” Shedeur Sanders said. “Yes, I came from an FCS school, a SWAC school, but to me it’s no different. … I knew we was gonna do this. The scoreboard is just telling y’all that’s what’s going on but nobody believed that we was gonna do this.”
Sanders did spend two seasons hoisting trophies at Jackson State, but he was also a three-star prospect with offers from dozens of major programs like Georgia, Alabama, LSU, Oregon, Florida State and more. Initially, he committed to play for Willie Taggart at Florida Atlantic, but he flipped to Jackson State when his father was hired as head coach in September 2020.
Sanders is the son of the head coach, but he’s not a Cinderella story or an all-too-common tale of nepotism in football.
Sanders has been one of the most intriguing quarterbacks of the offseason, but on Saturday, he spent the first three hours of the season making himself a household name.
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While his father stayed mostly stoic on the field during and after the victory, Shedeur had no qualms about expending some extra energy on a sweltering Texas day that flirted with triple-digit temperatures. After he found Edwards for a 46-yard go-ahead touchdown with 4:25 to play that provided the final score, he sprinted back to the sideline. His oldest brother, Deion Sanders Jr., was waiting, of course, with his phone out to capture the celebration for Sanders’ YouTube channel and Deion Sanders Jr.’s channel, Well Off Media.
They did the same as the final seconds ticked off the clock and both sprinted to the south end zone. Shedeur screaming. Deion Jr. filming.
They told you so.
A bigger stage? Shedeur shrugs.
“It doesn’t feel like nothin’ to me. Because it’s the same recipe, same preparation, same thing, we’re doing over and over. It’s just magnified and y’all are able to see. There’s more cameras and stuff. But we had the same things at our old school.”
Sanders admitted that he did notice one thing new: Major conference defensive linemen were better at shedding blocks than those at the FCS level. That made scrambling a more dangerous exercise than it had ever been for Sanders, who was sacked four times in the victory.
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“People fear names. I don’t fear names because I really don’t care,” Shedeur Sanders said. “That’s half the battle. You’re already losing when you’re, ‘Dang, we’re playing TCU.’ I respect the university and everything about them, but personally, I just never cared about names.”
At Colorado, though, it’s hard not to take notice of those names. The Buffaloes, like Jackson State before them, are a Sanders family affair.
In a quiet training room amidst the booming bass of a victorious locker room, the Sanders boys huddled together.
The coach sat on a training table as trainers tended to the pain from standing for four hours on a foot with three toes. His youngest son, the quarterback, joined him. So did Shilo, his middle son and the Buffaloes’ starting safety.
His oldest son, Deion Sanders Jr., filmed the moment for his YouTube channel, of course.
“I was just Dad in there,” Sanders said.
And for a moment, the star quarterback was just a son.
(Photo: Andy Cross / MediaNews Group / The Denver Post via Getty Images)