Opinion: Coach Prime is Jackson’s MVP

Opinion: Coach Prime is Jackson’s MVP

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If there were any questions about Deion Sanders’ impact on Jackson State University and the entire Southwestern Athletic Conference, they’ve been answered by the word that ESPN’s popular “College GameDay” show will set up shop this Saturday outside Veterans Memorial Stadium for the Tigers ‘ game against Southern University.

“College GameDay” has been to Mississippi before, most famously in 2014 in Oxford, when guest picker Katy Perry correctly chose the winner of every single game, including Ole Miss’ upset of Alabama.

But literally and symbolically, it’s quite a distance between Oxford and Jackson State, and it’s safe to say that Sanders, who prefers to be called Coach Prime in a nod to the nickname from his NFL playing days, is the main reason ESPN is coming to Jackson.

Sanders has exceeded all expectations at JSU, returning the football program to a standard of excellence that produced a number of NFL players. Walter Payton, as great as he was, is just one of many that Jackson State molded into superb athletes.

Sanders always has talked a good game. His unbelievable football talent got him elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but his personality kept him popular after he retired, first on television and now as a head coach.

He has not only made Jackson State the dominant team in the SWAC, but he has proven himself to be a capable recruiter. He appears to be on a mission to encourage more top-quality minority athletes to attend lesser-known Black schools like those in the SWAC, and he has some significant victories on that field, too.

Mississippi Today sports columnist Rick Cleveland says the visit by “College Gameday” will provide unprecedented exposure for Jackson State. Sanders agreed: “That’s what ESPN is doing. They are nodding in our direction. They see us.”

Of course, one likely backstory during the broadcast is Jackson’s ongoing water problems. The subject is fair game; there’s no way ESPN could have come to Jackson just six weeks ago, and Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba has already warned residents to be careful with their water consumption this weekend.

JSU’s game last weekend put a strain on the city’s fragile water system, and the mayor warned of the possibility of a city-wide boil-water notice if there’s too much demand on Jackson’s ailing water treatment plants this weekend.

Cleveland provided a good rebuttal to fans who think “College GameDay” shouldn’t bother with a SWAC game that fewer people care about.

“Those people … just don’t get it,” Cleveland wrote. “This is unique. This is really cool. How many times do you really need to set up outside of stadiums at Ohio State or Alabama? GameDay has featured those schools nearly 60 times each over the years.”

So true. Smaller schools play football too, and it’s good to see both Jackson State and its coach get the recognition they deserve.

— Jack Ryan, McComb Enterprise-Journal

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Jorge Oliveira

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