Deion Sanders makes grand entrance into Big 12

LAS VEGAS – Deion Sanders took Las Vegas by storm here Wednesday, making his grand debut as a member of the Big 12 Conference by taking the stage at Allegiant Stadium and doing what he does best –attracting and welcoming attention unlike any other coach in America.

For example, the Colorado head football coach walked to the stage attended by his security guard and a trail of photographers.

He protested in jest when his 15 minutes on the stage ran out, saying he was having fun answering questions from reporters at the Big 12 media days event.

He also expressed awe at where he was and how far he had come, even though he’s a Pro Football Hall of Famer in his second year at Colorado.

“Look at where we are,” said Sanders, sitting on a stage behind the end zone of the NFL stadium. “You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m a brother from Fort Myers, Florida, and I’m sitting up here in the dern end zone in Las Vegas talking to the whole dern country about a childish game I played when I was a shortie. Don’t you understand how powerful and how wonderful it is? … I’m so dern thankful to be here. I try to relay that to all our young men. This is a moment, man. You better maximize it and let’s go get it.”

Why Deion Sanders and the Big 12 love each other

Last year, “Coach Prime” was scheduled to appear here with the Pac-12 Conference but canceled because of health problems.

One year later, he’s in the Big 12 after Colorado switched leagues and sounds like he’s thrilled about it, for a couple of obvious reasons. He’s a Florida native and has an estate in Texas, where he once played for the Dallas Cowboys. He has recruited players out of both states before moving to the Big 12, but now he’ll get to coach games in those states as a member of the Big 12, including at Central Florida and Texas Tech this season.

But first came his appearance at this two-day event, where all 16 Big 12 head coaches give preseason previews of their teams. More than 500 media members were credentialed for it, with Sanders arguably the biggest attraction at the air-conditioned stadium. No other coach was talked about more.

“Man, I love Deion,” Texas Tech head coach Joey McGuire said Tuesday. “I always tell everybody, I coached Bucky (Deion Jr.), his oldest son, in high school. He’s honestly the best dad of a player that I’ve ever had.”

Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy was even asked about his game against Colorado in Boulder Nov. 29 on ABC.

“I think we’re lucky in our league that he’s with us because he brings more people and notoriety and viewers to the Big 12 Conference, and that’s what makes it go,” Gundy said. “We need viewership. We want people to watch our teams play. It will be fun to have him in our league.”

What did Deion Sanders say about his team this year?

He came to the media days event with three of his players: star quarterback son Shedeur, safety son Shilo and punter Mark Vassett. Two-way star Travis Hunter had been announced as attending the event but didn’t come for unstated reasons.

Two of those players be selected in the first round of the NFL draft next year: Hunter and Shedeur Sanders. Sanders said Wednesday he wants to see four of his players selected in the first round, including defensive lineman BJ Green, a transfer from Arizona State.

‘I see the want and the fire and desire from our young men, and I can’t wait until you get the opportunity to see it as well,’ Deion Sanders said. “I’m very optimistic on what we have on our plate.’

Sanders’ second team at Colorado is projected to finish 11th out of 16 teams by media who cover the league but could surprise like they did early in the season last year before finishing 4-8. Not only are Shedeur Sanders and Shilo Sanders returning as stars on the offense and defense, but they’ll be surrounded by many new faces on offense and defense, including a new starting offensive line to replace the one that gave up the second-most quarterback sacks in the nation last year.

Coach Prime discusses staff and standards

Much like last year in his first season in Boulder, Sanders used the transfer portal to remake his roster, with about 40 transfers coming in and at least 36 players from last year’s team transferring out or otherwise leaving before their eligibility expired.  

Sanders noted they will be managed and coached by a Colorado staff with a combined 159 seasons of NFL coaching experience, including that of new defensive coordinator Robert Livingston and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, a former NFL head coach.

Sanders called Livingston “totally awesome” and said, “I pray to God I can keep him because I feel like we’re going to kick butt. We’re going to win, and he’s going to be a head coach in college or pros or whatever he endeavors because he’s that good.’

Livingston is a former assistant with the Cincinnati Bengals who will coach Hunter and Shilo Sanders, Colorado’s leading tackler last year. All three of Sanders’ sons came with him to Las Vegas, including his eldest son, Deion Jr., who documents the Colorado program through his YouTube channel.

Describing his overall outlook at age 56, Deion Sanders noted he’s ‘judged on a different scale.’

‘Nothing I do is ever going to be enough,’ he said. ‘I’m cool with that. I understand that that is life, and that’s how life is going to be. But I plan on being a tremendous blessing to as many people I can bless, especially those probably 120 young men that put on this CU helmet and go out and play for our school and our program.

‘To sum it all up, man, I just want to be known as a great dad. I think I’ve got three sons here today. And I just wantto be a great dad to them. That’s it.’

Colorado opens the season Aug. 29 against North Dakota State.

Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. Email: bschrotenb@usatoday.com

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