Deion Sanders may hit New Orleans area hard in quest to build Colorado into a college football power
Colorado had a 1-11 record in 2022, facing what may have been the toughest schedule in the nation.
The program has fallen on tough times, having won only 24 games during the previous six seasons.
Deion Sanders arrived this past offseason, tasked to elevate the football hopes. Coach Prime has delivered fast results. Colorado wasn’t even slotted among the top 100 preseason ranked teams but the Buffaloes are 18th nationally after beating Nebraska, 36-14, last weekend en route to a 2-0 start. Despite being a 21 point underdog, Colorado overtook TCU 45-42 in the season opener on the road.
The national spotlight stays firmly upon Boulder this coming weekend as ESPN College Football Gameday will be on campus when the Buffaloes host in-state rival Colorado State.
Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders, Deion’s son, has been tremendous. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound junior is the nation’s No. 2 rated passer, completing 77% of his tosses for 903 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions.
Two-way sensation Travis Hunter also followed the Sanders duo from Jackson State to Colorado. In his first two games this season, he has played both cornerback and wide receiver. Two-way college football legends like 1997 Heisman winner Charles Woodson (Michigan) and two-time All American Gordie Lockbaun (Holy Cross), who finished third in the ’87 balloting, come to mind.
Hunter is special on perhaps another level. He participated in 145 out of a possible 160 official game snaps against TCU (65 on offense, 80 on defense) in 98-degree heat. On the season, the 6-1, 185 pounder has recorded 14 catches for 192 yards while adding seven tackles and an interception on defense.
Throughout 130 years of existence, Colorado football has only recorded three 11-win seasons and five 10-win campaigns. Much of that success came during the aforementioned era under head coach Bill McCartney (1982–1994).
The only player on the roster hailing from the New Orleans metro area is grad wide receiver Javon Antonio, an East St. John product. The Colorado Crescent City Connection was a big part of the program’s success in the early to mid-1990’s.
During the first half of the 1990’s, 10 players from the New Orleans metro area found their way to Boulder, Colorado.
– Vance Joseph (Shaw) won state titles in both football (quarterback) and basketball. He played in 30 games for the Buffaloes, mostly as the backup to Darian Hagan and Kordell Stewart. Currently, Joseph is defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos.
– Shannon Clavelle (O. Perry Walker) was a defensive lineman was on the Packers team that won Super Bowl XXXI in the Superdome.
– Defensive end Mike Phillips (John Ehret) 1994-’97
– Ooffensive lineman Chris Storz (John Curtis) 1991
– Running Back Kendall Bussey (Shaw) played 1991 in Colorado but later transferred to Louisiana Monroe and spent a pair of seasons in the NFL
– Offensive Guard Corey Smith (St. Augustine) spent three season in Boulder but transferred to Arizona State in 1994.
– Cornerback Dalton Simmons (John Ehret) played for Colorado from 1992-’95 before one season with the Denver Broncos.
– Offensive Guard Gerald Ancar (Shaw), rated the top interior lineman in Louisiana in the 1992 class, played two seasons for the Buffaloes.
– Defensive tackle Melvin Thomas (Lawless) 1994-’97, the 6-3,305 was a 7th round pick of the Eagles in the ’98 draft.
– Quarterback Kordell Stewart (John Ehret), nicknamed “Slash,” spent 11 seasons in the NFL.
Under McCartney, Colorado finished 11-1-1 with a National Championship in 1990. The season was capped by a 10-9 victory over Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl. He holds the school record for most games coached (153) and most wins (93). McCartney has devoted much of his time since retiring from coaching at age 54 to the Christian organization, Promise Keepers.
Colorado defensive line/linebacker coach Bob Simmons was the conduit channeling the New Orleans area talent to Boulder. Shaw product Mickey Joseph excelled at Nebraska from 1988-’91. The Colorado staff like what he did for the Cornhuskers, targeting his brother to be their option quarterback.
“(Simmons) came for Vance Joseph,” Bussey explained how the process got started in 1990. “They knew about Mickey. They soon realized there were other players. Vance opened the floodgates. I was next (1991). Me and Kordell grew up like brothers. Kordell really wanted to go to Arkansas. I told him that we could be roommates at Colorado.”
Bussey had considered Nebraska, Colorado, Ole Miss, Miami and LSU during his recruitment. LSU had just fired Mike Archer and replaced him with Curley Hallman.
There are similarities between Bill McCartney and Coach Prime. They both share core values.
“Both of them are honest men,” Bussey remarked. “Coach McCartney would tell you whether you could play or you couldn’t. If you couldn’t play, he’d be honest with you. Deion can evaluate talent. He realized that 85% of the roster (last year) couldn’t play. Some coaches may take 5-6 seasons. He took a different approach. He told the players, ‘You can get with us, but there will be challenges or you can get in the portal’. He wanted to win right now and not go 2-10 or 3-9 for a couple of seasons. He is a master motivator and recruiter.”
McCartney and Sanders are both Christian based individuals who can relate to their players. “They both go after the same type of kid. They go after hungry players. Both set the tone and what to expect. Both motivate. They possess the same traits motivating players.”
Success on the football field is a key factor in the recruiting process, but the pristine setting and breathtaking scenery in the Rocky Mountains is a draw.
“(Sanders) knows that if he gets you on campus, you won’t leave,” Bussey explained. “The scenery of Boulder is beautiful. The campus is outstanding.”
For Dalton Simmons, his college football life took him on a journey he never imagined. The community welcomed the players with opened arms.
“It was a life changing experience for me. Growing up in Marrero, you had a lot of obstacles. I got to see a different way of life. Boulder is a great atmosphere for family. There is no crime there,” detailed Simmons.
If Coach Prime experiences more success this season, the trick will be to build on it. The transfer portal will always be a factor, but recruiting the right players will be crucial to reach national prominence and sustain success.
“He has a phenomenal system,” Bussey said. “He has coaches that do nothing but evaluate talent. There are a lot of good kids who get overlooked. He’s giving those a chance. He looks at a lot of film. If he likes what they do, he knows that he can develop them. He knows that if he gets you on campus, you won’t leave.”
The New Orleans area is on Sanders’ radar.
“The skill positions and defense are the positions (New Orleans area) have among the best in the country,” Bussey stressed.
Simmons expects Sanders to begin recruiting the Metro area hard, citing that area players have a reputation of playing with a swagger and a lot of heart.
“It’s the fight and the struggle we go through,” Dalton stated. “You keep the same tenacity and mentality as a player. You come from an environment that teaches you to survive. (Sanders) will be coming to New Orleans.”
Simmons played a role in the 1994 Miracle at Michigan. He roomed with Vance Joseph as a true freshman but moved in with Kordell Stewart in his college remaining years. In the famous win coming on the arm of Stewart via one of football’s most famous Hail Mary plays, Simmons held future NFL star Amani Toomer to no catches on the afternoon.
“I had just broken up a pass intended for him and was on the sideline on my knees praying with Shannon Clavelle.”
The Rocket Left call in the huddle led to a 64-yard prayer answered by wide receiver Michael Westbrook, giving the Buffaloes an historic 27-26 win as the time expired. Stewart launched the ball from his own 25-yard line to the Michigan goal line.
Simmons has a gleam in his eyes as he reflects back to the Crescent City Connection during his days in Boulder.
“It was special. We looked out for one another as a family. We had each other’s back.”
It’s too early to tell but another special era for Colorado football could be in the cards.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to play football at LSU, developing a passion for the game in even greater fashion while in…