COLUMBIA — They wanted the player. Shilo Sanders picked off five passes and returned two kickoffs for touchdowns as a senior for state champion Trinity Christian High School in Cedar Hill, Texas.
Getting the player’s father, Deion Sanders, as a promotional tool for South Carolina and the Gamecocks’ football program?
Call it a signing bonus.
“I feel like it’s a very, very good fit for Shilo. I love all of it,” Sanders, a pro football Hall of Famer and NFL Network analyst, said in a video last week. “To come here and see everything, how it all comes together … unbelievable, man. This is a first-class school.”
The elder Sanders was back in Columbia last week to drop off Shilo for USC’s “Maymester,” a three-week academic session that crams at least one three-hour course into 15 days. Shilo Sanders joined fellow defensive backs Jammie Robinson and Cam Smith as May enrollees, a boon for USC as all can get used to the grind of class, nutrition regimen, conditioning and working out with their teammates before fall camp arrives.
The younger Sanders was a big get for the Gamecocks, who due to injury cycled through nearly every defensive back on the roster last season. The Under Armour All-American is part of a young and talented group for 2019. Like his dad, Shilo has expressed an interest in playing college baseball, too.
Yet until he gets on the field and makes a big play, he’ll probably be tagged as “Deion’s kid,” much as Jaycee Horn was “Joe Horn’s son” until he earned SEC All-Freshman honors in 2018. Of course Shilo will want to make his own name as soon as possible, but USC can reap the benefits of his famous father for at least the next four years.
“He was wonderful in the recruiting process as a father, as far as telling me, ‘You need to recruit my son, not me,’” coach Will Muschamp said. “To have a guy that’s probably the best ever at the position … to entrust his son with us says an awful lot about the confidence he has in this coaching staff, I can tell you that.”
Deion is no stranger to Columbia or Williams-Brice Stadium. He visited twice during the 1980s when played at Florida State.
Already fully morphed into the flashy, glitzy star known as “Neon” and “Prime Time,” Sanders was part of three FSU routs of the Gamecocks, including a 59-0 shellacking in 1988. He went on to become perhaps the best cornerback in NFL history, and made more history in 1992 when he became the only man to dress for an NFL game and Major League Baseball game in the same day. He played for the Atlanta Falcons that day, but did not get into the Atlanta Braves’ playoff game that night.
He is still the only man to ever play in a Super Bowl (two rings) and a World Series (one appearance). And he hasn’t stopped being Deion.
As soon as Shilo announced, the biggest question was how many games would Deion attend, possibly hanging out with recruits on the sideline as a USC football ambassador. The answer is probably slim to none.
“I know he’s got a busy schedule,” Muschamp said. “He’s still coaching high school football in Dallas, and works on NFL Network on Sunday and Saturday nights and is busy with some things as well on the West Coast.”
But the Gamecocks do head to Texas every other year (this year’s game at Texas A&M is Nov. 16) and College Station is a short drive from Dallas. Plus, USC was able to get in the door with Shilo in the first place because of Deion’s relationship with defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson.
“T-Rob, man, I got a confidence level with T-Rob,” Deion Sanders said. “I’m a high school coach, and one of my dearest friends, coach (Kevin) Mathis, is a dear friend of T-Rob’s, and we wanted him to go somewhere where it’s going to be that same level of coaching, that same excitement, the passion, and somebody that’s going to keep their foot on his throat and challenge him to do the right thing.”
Muschamp’s program is very NFL-centric in its approach and that’s familiar and attractive to NFL progenies. Shilo is in Columbia, and while Deion may not be able to appear as often as everyone would like, Deion’s endorsement carries an awful lot.
“Shilo could have gone to several places. Coach Champ, man, I got love for him. Followed his career, followed his journey, I like what he brings to the table as a head coach, the structured organization and the character values,” Deion said. “It’s a good spot. I’m overwhelmed, I’m happy, I’m elated, I can’t wait to see this journey start.”