Photo by Jan Patterson/B/R Image
The moment is more than two years away, but Shedeur Sanders can already picture his signing-day ceremony.
The cameras. The crowd. The clamor on social media.
Aside from the school he’ll choose, the only thing he’s still working out is the coup de grace—a signature touch to put the event over the top.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do yet,” he says. “I’m telling you, it’s going to be very crazy.”
It is exactly the sort of thing one might expect from Deion Sanders‘ youngest son. And those who know him insist that Shedeur, a sophomore quarterback at Trinity Christian School in Cedar Hill, Texas, is Deion’s boy in almost every sense. He has his father’s lean body and his incandescent smile, his swagger on the football field and his quiet demeanor off it.
Everything, Deion says with a chuckle, “[Except my] speed. That’s about it.”
He’s easy to typecast, which motivates Shedeur to author a more nuanced story. He is an athlete but hardly a dual-threat quarterback. He is a child of privilege, born with so much, who wants more than anything for people to know that when it comes to his burgeoning career, “I work for everything I have.” He is a Sanders, but he is also Shedeur.
Already, having won two high school state championships and earned scholarship offers from colleges like Georgia, LSU and Florida State, he is living up to his lineage. Because, name or no name, seeing is believing.
“If you didn’t know my son was my son, you would say, ‘He’s somebody,'” Deion says. “Because he’s got it.
“He’s got it.”
Photo by Jan Patterson
You won’t see Shedeur’s name anywhere among Deion’s cellphone contacts. He’s not listed under “son” either.
Instead, he can be found under “Grown,” the nickname Deion has called Shedeur since he was in elementary school
“From the age of seven years old,” he says. “Nobody calls him his name. He’s a grown man in a kid’s body.”
Sanders sees that maturity peek through in his son’s personality, from his wit to his faithful attendance every Wednesday night at Bible study.
To the rest of the world, though, it’s most apparent in his game. Seven was the age when Shedeur first began to process opposing defenses. It’s when he first started calling audibles and checkdowns at the line of scrimmage. By the age of nine, he could already cycle between three- and five-step drops or shotgun snaps, depending on the call.
“We knew from then he was going to be something special,” says Charles Thompson, Trinity Christian’s wide receivers coach, who has known Shedeur since the age of eight.
It took Shedeur much longer to recognize that for himself. He grew up playing three sports. While he understood that he was best at football, he didn’t gravitate toward it. That changed after an eighth-grade all-star game, when he competed against players who, despite being the same age, were already mono-focused and far more polished. Shedeur held his own and came to a realization: These dudes aren’t really better than me; these dudes have had trainers since they were six.
“I realized I wasn’t too far behind them,” he says now. “So that’s when I got serious and said, ‘OK, I’m going to do this.'”
That summer, Deion and Shedeur enlisted the help of Jeff Blake, a 13-year NFL veteran, for private coaching. From the start, Blake’s goal was to make Shedeur into a formidable athlete whose game nevertheless depends on his mind and his arm instead of his legs.
Photo by Jan Patterson
“[Shedeur is] not a dual threat, although he can run,” Deion says. “We know, oftentimes, when you say dual threat with an African American quarterback, the buck stops right after college is over. He’s not that. He’s a real, bona fide QB.”
Blake immediately went to work on Shedeur’s mechanics, truncating his throwing motion and better aligning his feet to maximize the ball’s explosiveness out of his hand. Then, for good measure, Blake finessed Shedeur’s release point by raising his elbow and keeping it bent. Together it made for a dramatic overhaul, one that could fluster someone still so unrefined. Instead, Shedeur picked it up so quickly that he appeared almost unrecognizable as a high school freshman.
“When I first saw the change, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness,'” Thompson says. “I could tell that’s a totally different kid.”
Results quickly followed. After finishing 4-6 in 2016, Trinity Christian ripped off a 26-1 record over the last two seasons, all 27 games of which were started by Shedeur. He is hardly the only reason for the team’s success; thanks in part to Deion Sanders’ involvement with the program, which includes serving as the Tigers’ offensive coordinator, Trinity Christian has enjoyed a considerable talent infusion throughout the roster.
But arguably no one has been more impactful than Shedeur. As a freshman, he threw for 34 touchdowns against eight interceptions. This year, those numbers became 42 and seven. Along the way, he bumped his completion percentage up from 52.8 to 61.2, raised his quarterback rating by nearly 16 points and threw for 728 more yards.
His coaches credit that progression to willpower more than natural talent.
“Since the first time I met him, his biggest attribute is his work ethic,” Blake says. “The kid doesn’t stop. It doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas Day, Christmas morning … he’s somewhere near a football field with a ball in his hand.”
Shedeur is ravenous about film study, routinely spending evenings at home poring over tape to supplement the reps he gets at school. At least one night a week, he dials up Thompson so they can review plays over the phone. Earlier this season, when the team was in Florida for an away game, he even knocked on the coach’s hotel room door for a late-night brush-up.
Blake gets the same treatment, usually receiving a phone call on Friday nights after Shedeur’s game. Almost always, the conversation takes on a familiar beat: Shedeur tells Blake he played badly; Blake reminds Shedeur that his team won and his numbers were excellent; Shedeur nevertheless dwells on every blemish he should correct.
“He’s very hard on himself,” Blake says. “He wants to represent his family name to the utmost.”
Shedeur is still absorbing what that entails. He was only alive for two years of his father’s playing career—during Deion’s comeback with the Baltimore Ravens—and was just three years old when his father retired for good. Whatever he’s seen comes from highlight tapes plucked from a time so long ago that his father’s grace and athleticism are almost alien to him
Deion Sanders @DeionSanders
2 in a row! #StateChampions @TCCHFootball #TRUTH @ShedeurSanders https://t.co/H5ox4vFKrG
“Right now, I really don’t get the full picture, still, of what he did,” Shedeur says. “Because I can’t believe it’s the same guy. … I see that he was great. It’s just I don’t really realize it’s actually him.”
But he knows plenty about the Prime Time of today—more than enough to be cognizant of their similarities and, as Shedeur grows into his own man, impending differences. According to Shedeur, Deion these days is “Country Prime,” someone who treasures his space and a quiet house. He, on the other hand, is “City Prime,” not afraid to rock a chain and soak up the limelight.
“I’m pretty sure he gets tired of people just coming up to him while he’s eating and stuff and asking for pictures, but I wouldn’t mind it,” Shedeur says, the famous Sanders smile creeping onto his face. “I like it.”
Already, the adulation is arriving. Shedeur came of age in his father’s youth football organization, Truth Sports, admiring players like current Texas A&M wide receiver Camron Buckley. Now he is that figure to the next generation of kids, some of whom aren’t afraid to tell him in person how much they look up to him.
“[It] amazes me,” he says. “I’m just a regular kid, honestly. Put my pants on and go to school every day.”
He is and he isn’t, especially when it’s time to put on a show on Friday nights. That’s when City Prime emerges. The duality, perhaps more than anything else, reminds his father of how he navigates his own fame.
“He has my split personality like that,” Deion says. “He’s laid-back, but when the lights are on, he’s on.”
Shedeur has two more years to decide where they’ll shine upon him next. He insists there’s no early favorite, despite the natural assumption that his offer from Florida State, Deion’s alma mater, carries extra weight. What he’s looking for is somewhere with a coaching staff he can trust, that can give him a good education and be “the place where I’m wanted.”
Until then, there will be plenty of eyes on him, eagerly awaiting that signing ceremony and whatever trick lurks up his sleeve. Which suits Shedeur just fine. He’s used to everyone watching him. He wouldn’t have it any other way.