He sat behind three baseball caps perched on a dais at midday Wednesday — Florida State, Georgia, Auburn, left to right — but eventually he chucked away all three, left and right and whoa. Then Travis Hunter, the nation’s top-ranked high school recruit, unzipped his sweater.
There, in a loud moment at Collins Hill High in Suwanee, Ga., just northeast of Atlanta, came one of the loudest moments in the kaleidoscopic history of college football signing days. The top player, a two-way star at cornerback and wide receiver and pretty much wherever else someone might play him, much as was Deion Sanders, had spurned Florida State for Jackson State, the program of Deion Sanders.
It marked one hilt and coup for Sanders, Jackson State’s wildly famous second-year coach and Pro Football Hall of Fame member, and one hilt and coup for historically Black colleges and universities, those storied but lightly noticed football programs that operate in a tier of resources beneath the ravenous kingdoms of the SEC and the upper crust.
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Yet on Wednesday in Georgia, the kingdom hats had subsided, and up to the dais flew one Jackson State cap, which Hunter caught and donned, its elegant blue “J” amid a sea of white on the cap front. His announcement had come as the last of five, after his high school teammates had chosen Marshall, Mercer, Missouri and West Virginia, and it had come after a delay, apparently for a commercial, during which Hunter held one mobile phone in his right hand and another at his left ear.
HISTORY HAS BEEN MADE 🤯
THE NATION’S NUMBER ONE RECRUIT TRAVIS HUNTER HAS COMMITTED TO HBCU JACKSON STATE!!@DeionSanders x @JacksonStateU pic.twitter.com/OPdLMtk9K6
“Florida State has always been a beacon for me,” Hunter said in a statement timed for release right around his announcement. “I grew up down there, that’s where my roots are, and I never doubted that I would play for the Seminoles. It’s a dream that is hard to let go of, but sometimes we are called to step into a bigger future than the one we imagined for ourselves.
“For me, that future is at Jackson State University.
“Jerry Rice, Doug Williams and, of course, the legend, JSU’s own Walter Payton — Historically Black Colleges and Universities have a rich tradition in football. I want to be part of that history, and more, I want to be part of that future. I am making this decision so that I can light the way for others to follow, make it a little easier for the next player to recognize that HBCUs may be everything you want and more: an exciting college experience, a vital community, and a life-changing place to play football.
“I look forward to working with the iconic Deion Sanders, and especially with my fellow Tigers. Along with Coach Prime, they have made me feel like I’m already part of the team. Like I’m home. And I can’t wait to welcome the next class of top athletes into the family of HBCUs.”
It lent to the makings of a grand weekend around Atlanta for Jackson State alumni and fans, what with the Tigers headed already to the program’s first Celebration Bowl, set for Saturday at noon in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Had Hunter actually upturned that table, it might have been rude but also metaphorical.
Top-ranked prospects long have chosen from among the powerhouses that long have swooned and begged for them. It’s a big dog’s game. The previous six No. 1 players, according to Rivals.com, chose Ohio State, Clemson, LSU, Clemson, Alabama and Michigan. A player who finished No. 2 in Rivals but No. 1 on other lists, Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, chose Alabama in 2019 from afar (Pasadena, Calif.). Recent-years No. 1-ranked players include quarterback Trevor Lawrence of the Jacksonville Jaguars, running back Najee Harris of the Pittsburgh Steelers, defensive lineman turned linebacker Rashan Gary of the Green Bay Packers, defensive lineman Byron Cowart of the New England Patriots, defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche of the Seattle Seahawks and defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney of the Cleveland Browns.
Players Nos. 2 through 10 this year, according to Rivals, either signed with or committed to Texas A&M, North Carolina, Alabama, Missouri, Clemson, Georgia, Ohio State, Georgia and Texas. The players committing to North Carolina and Missouri, good programs but non-kingdoms, hail from near those programs — Greensboro, N.C., and East St. Louis, Ill.
Hunter, an electrifying 6-foot-1, 165-pounder listed as “athlete” in the position designations of recruiting analysts, denoting uncommon versatility, had committed to Florida State in March 2020. He had held on to that commitment in the 21 months since, referring to Florida State as his “forever dream school” on ESPN in October. He took an official visit to Tallahassee in early September. Collins Hill just finished winning the Georgia state championship in the top division in a state of surpassing high school football quality.
By Wednesday morning, as he steered toward the larger concept, the chatter had begun to swirl — as on 247Sports’ recruiting show — that Sanders had swayed Hunter. At 9:04 a.m., Hunter made a quick announcement to his then-14,400 Twitter followers and anyone else out there.
“Time To Make History,” it read.
Scores | Rankings | Standings | Stats
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John Feinstein: Don’t underestimate Deion Sanders — and don’t take your eyes off him.