Deion Sanders opens Colorado spring football practices with plans to build 'something to behold'
Spring has sprung again on the University of Colorado football team, but this time it’s in Prime Time and there are new rules to follow under new head coach Deion Sanders.
This all became clear Sunday when the Buffaloes opened spring practice in Boulder wearing jerseys with no numbers on them.
They were blank for a reason.
“If you want a number – and I love this – you’ve got to earn it,” Sanders told the team in a recent meeting.
So began the most hyped set of spring practices in school history. After being hired in early December, Sanders has overhauled the roster with an incoming class of more than 40 scholarship newcomers, 29 of whom have already enrolled for the spring semester.
On Sunday, they got to work with a new of staff coaches, led by Sanders, who drastically altered the outlook of the program less than four months after the Buffs finished last season with a 1-11 record. ESPN is even going to televise CU’s spring game April 22 — the only college football spring game that ESPN will air on its main channel.
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Here is a look at his building process after their first of 15 spring practices. Sanders spoke with reporters after the practice, which was closed to the public and the media:
There’s a new sheriff
Sanders, also known as Coach Prime and Prime Time, patrolled the practice wearing a black cowboy hat and cowboy boots. In terms of style and swagger, he is the opposite of his predecessor at Colorado, Karl Dorrell, whose soft-spoken, low-key approach didn’t work and ended with his firing last year.
And that’s the point. Colorado athletic director Rick George shot for the moon by hiring Sanders, a flamboyant national celebrity and former two-sport superstar.
It’s paid off so far in recruiting and publicity. His recruiting class of transfer players ranks No. 1 nationally this year, according to 247Sports. A crowd of more than 35,000 also is expected to attend the spring game, obliterating CU’s previous spring record crowd of 17,800 in 2008.
“Right now, we’re a team, and we’re building a team — I want more than that,” Sanders told reporters after practice Sunday. “I want it to be more than the team. I want to be something to behold, something you’ve got to prepare for, really sit down and prepare for. I don’t want just a football team. I look at this thing totally different than just being a team.”
There are new rules
Sanders outlined some of them in a team meeting this weekend that was recorded by his son Deion Jr. and posted on YouTube.
“No walking” is one of them. He wants his team to always be running on the field when moving from drill to drill.
And if the quarterback makes a poor throw to his receiver in practice with no defender covering that receiver, then the quarterback must run out to retrieve the ball.
“Receivers, you hear me?” Sanders asked at meeting. “If they throw a garbage pass, leave the darn ball right there.”
Sanders also said jersey numbers must be earned, especially coveted single-digit numbers. Jersey No. 1 will go to the player he says is worthy of it.
“How can you ask for No. 1 when you ain’t the one?” he asked the team.
There’s a new tempo
It’s fast-paced on offense under offensive coordinator Sean Lewis, who joined Sanders’ staff after previously serving as the head coach at Kent State.
“It’s a lot to absorb, but it’s at such a fast pace (that) by the time we hit the field and game time running, we’ve got a tempo that’s out of this world because that’s the expectation of practice,” Sanders said.
The idea, Sanders said, is to “get a lot of plays off.”
Drastic change was needed. CU ranked 126th out of 130 major college teams last season with 15.4 points per game as the Buffaloes posted their 15th losing season in the past 17 years.
There’s a new quarterback
Sanders’ son Shedeur is the QB1 after transferring from Jackson State with his father and seven other players on CU’s spring roster. After living in Texas and Mississippi, Boulder is different for him. He’s not used to the snow or the cold in the winter and sometimes brings Vaseline on the field for his lips.
But he’s adjusted nicely and spoke highly of Lewis, his new coach.
“I got used to it,” Shedeur Sanders said of the snow. “Now I just go outside with a sweatshirt and shorts. I’m cool now. I’m a Colorado boy.”
The Buffs need him to be. They have lived with substandard quarterback play for most of the last 20 years. They also haven’t had a quarterback drafted into the NFL since Koy Detmer in 1997. It helps CU that Shedeur has a mentor of sorts in former NFL star quarterback Tom Brady. Shedeur Sanders said Sunday he is planning to meet with Brady in April.
There’s a freak out there
His name is Travis Hunter, the No. 1 recruit in the nation in 2022. He also came from Jackson State and is primarily known as a cornerback. But this spring he’s also working at receiver and could be used as a two-way star for the Buffs.
“I’m feeling great that Travis is on my side,” Shedeur Sanders said after practice Sunday.
His father called Hunter a “freak of an athlete” and said he could “fall out of bed and cover” receivers as a cornerback. Being a receiver is something else, but Sunday was a good start. While the team gave itself a “C” grade for the practice, Hunter was at a different level.
“He was phenomenal today,” Deion Sanders said. “Phenomenal.”
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Deion Sanders, Colorado Buffaloes open spring football practice