Coach Deion Sanders has recruited so many new players to his new job at Colorado that he can’t be expected to know them all by name.
So he made a special request to the media Wednesday in his first news conference in Boulder since he was introduced as the Buffaloes' new football coach Dec. 4.
“OK, kind of shy away from names,” Sanders told reporters before they started asking him questions. “I’m not familiar with everyone’s name. All the players’ names, I’m not. I’m not going to pretend I am. I will give them nicknames when it’s appropriate, and I will call them by their names. I’ve got names on the back of their shirts right now, but I’m not familiar with every kid … And I’m not being disrespectful. I’m just being honest.”
This is understandable considering the fact that he has attracted a class of 42 newcomers in just eight weeks on the job, including 23 transfers from other four-year colleges. Twenty-nine of them are already enrolled. And more could be coming soon after the NCAA transfer portal opens again in the spring.
Together they are the biggest class of newcomers in recorded school history and have earned a No. 21 national ranking, according to 247 Sports – a remarkable turn of events for a program that has had losing seasons in 15 of the past 17 years, including a 1-11 season in 2022.
'Feels like home': Two-sport star Nyckoles Harbor picks South Carolina on signing day
Sanders, a college and Pro Football Hall of Famer, addressed his plans for more recruiting this spring, how he was able to pull this all off, as well as his views on money as part of the recruiting game now that players are allowed to earn income from their name, images and likenesses (NIL).
What about NIL money?
Asked about his recruiting pitch to players, Sanders gave a response that addresses suspicions some may have had about NIL money suddenly driving recruits to Boulder. Sanders has dramatically helped raise the national profile of Colorado. So it stands to reason that recruits will have better opportunities to make money off NIL.
“I don’t sell nothin’” Sanders said in the news conference, which was also streamed online. “That’s the thing. It is what it is. One of the first things I say if you’re here for NIL, or to be rich: 'We’re not the school for you.’ But if you’re here to become a man, to get a degree, a tremendous education and grow, win, and go pro, possibly if you do all the correct things, we are. So we’re not here for the NIL. We’re here for the NFL, and we’re here to make you a man. But we don’t have anything for sale.”
His news conference came on national signing day for recruiting, though most of CU’s newcomers previously had signed or enrolled.
Possibly the boldest statement Sanders made Wednesday was when he was asked about his recruiting success in such a short amount of time. He said such success is expected by him and his staff. Then he dropped this line about his mindset when recruiting a player:
“The only thing that could keep that kid from coming and signing with us is a bag (money), someone paying him, the (NIL) collectives or whatever,” said Sanders, also known as Coach Prime. “And that’s it. And just outkicking the coverage. That’s it, because the coaching staff, the atmosphere, the city, the publicity, the structure, the discipline, the academics, the graduation rate, the food in the cafeteria. I could keep going because this thing is getting good. Just everything. It’s hard to say no.”
Sanders, 55, said Boulder “sells itself” with its mountains, beauty and lack of crime. He said he also tells parents of recruits that he has sat in “all three seats.”
“I’ve been the player and kid who was being recruited,” said Sanders, who was wearing a Colorado Nike jacket as required by his contract with CU. “I’ve been the parent sitting right by the kid who’s being recruited. Now I’m the coach recruiting the darn kid. So momma, I know what you’re feeling.”
He noted that today’s players are too young to remember him from his stardom as a player in the NFL and Major League Baseball. But “their parents do,” he said. “So the parents are finding the consistency of the way I maintain life and the way I maintain myself.”
He attracted players from all over. They came from 16 different states and two foreign countries, the most in CU history.
Sanders is not done recruiting for 2023
He opens spring practice at CU in March, concluding with the spring game April 22. He is limited by NCAA rule to 85 scholarship players. So it’s possible more players could leave Colorado, or be forced out, with additional players coming in.
Signing day Wednesday “is just a pause,” he said. “This is just a comma. Because there’s a lot of people that’s going to bungee-jump in that portal after spring because they’re going to be disappointed in the playing time and the commitment or the level of participation that they’re garnishing. And we’re going to take full advantage of that. So we’re not done.”
Hope is back in Boulder
Sanders praised Boulder and the reception he’s been given from the community, which hasn’t seen its football program get this much national attention since the 1990s and late 1980s, when the Buffs were a regular Top 25 team. Colorado regularly went to bowl games then under coach Bill McCartney, who recently has visited with Sanders in the CU athletics facility. McCartney led the Buffs to a share of the national title in 1990.
“Hope has been reestablished, I truly believe,” Sanders said. “I think it’s been there, but sometimes you need to light that switch of hope. And hope is in the house. Hope is in the air. Hope is in the city. Hope is in the community. Hope is within you all (the news media). And you want to write good stuff. You don’t want to write bad stuff.”
Cormani McClain, the No. 1 cornerback recruit in the nation, officially signed with Colorado on Wednesday after previously committing to Miami (Fla.).
Alabama linebacker Demouy Kennedy also announced on Instagram that he was transferring to Colorado. He was the state of Alabama’s top-ranked recruit in 2020, according to 247 Sports, but played as a backup or on special teams since then and then suffered a season-ending knee injury in October. He is not among the 23 transfers counted in the newcomer class announced Wednesday but is being recruited by the Buffs.
After signing Wednesday, McClain will join Travis Hunter, a transfer from Jackson State who ranked as the No. 1 cornerback recruit in 2022. Both wanted to play for Sanders, a legendary former defensive back himself.
“I love where we are and what we have,” Sanders said. “I love the secondary from what I see on paper.”
It’s because of him.
“He’s done a phenomenal job in the portal but also in high school,” said Adam Gorney, national recruiting director for Rivals.com. “He closed with some big-name guys who 1-million percent would not have gone Colorado without him being there.”
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. Email: email@example.com
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Colorado's Deion Sanders 'not done' after inking huge recruiting class