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'A Surprise Scholarship, Victory': Deion Sanders, Jackson State Homecoming Was A Special One

A sweet surprise for a Jackson State running back and a 28–7 win, Coach Prime and the Tigers keep rolling.

JACKSON, MISS. – Alabama State running back Ezra Gray had finished a six-yard run as the final seconds ticked off the jumbotron in the first half at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders—on his blue scooter—quickly ushered his players into the Tigers locker room.

All eyes were on "Thee I Love" as the Tigers and Hornets were tied 7–7 at halftime. JSU’s offense had only accumulated 101 yards of offense and quarterback Shedeur Sanders had been sacked twice. JSU needed some motivation.

After all, it was JSU’s homecoming, a time where fans, students and alumni pack the stadium to see their “dear old college home” football team win on the gridiron and groove to the tunes of the Sonic Boom of the South. How could one lose with this radiating energy around them?

Sanders, who like many of his players this week, was experiencing his first homecoming game in front of a record 53,578 people—the 10th largest game in JSU history. But in this moment, nothing mattered—not the crowd, the band, the pageantry—but figuring out what adjustments needed to be made. His message:

“We lost the second quarter, and we don’t like losing quarters,” Sanders told reporters in the postgame news conference. “We got to search deep within ourselves and find out who we are.”

The Tigers were being challenged by a Hornets’s team that had previously beaten them in the spring 2021 season and defeated them in 2019 on this exact same field for homecoming. Who was going to step up for JSU?

Players waited at the entrance of the locker room to re-enter the field following the Boom’s 50th anniversary halftime show that ended with a rendition of Doug E Fresh “The Show” intertwined with the remix to “Before I Let Go”.

When the Tigers took the field, their energy was different. In the team’s first drive of the second half, Shedeur—who finished the game with 201 passing yards and two touchdowns—connected with receivers Keith Corbin and Malachi Wideman on a series of passes that ended with Corbin hauling in a 12-yard touchdown reception to give JSU a 14–7 advantage.

But, the Tigers were just heating up. After JSU’s defense forced the Hornets to punt—one of four second half punts for Alabama State—JSU’s offense struck again. Shedeur completed a 36-yard pass to Wideman down to the Hornets’s 19. It set up Tigers running back Santee Marshall’s four-yard rushing touchdown, a score that broke the game open.

Little did Marshall know, his touchdown and 96-yard rushing performance was about to get even sweeter. In the final quarter, the Tigers added a 21-yard touchdown run by JD Martin to seal a 28–7 victory and its first homecoming win since 2018.

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As the Boom played DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” with the scoreboard reading 0:00, the players jogged off the field with smiles and excitement into the locker room. Sanders, who was swarmed with cameras leading up to the locker room, made a pit stop to talk to Marshall’s parents.

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Marshall, who made his debut in the spring season against Alabama A&M with 126 yards and a touchdown, previously served as the team’s cameraman. He transferred from Division II Miles College in Alabama under former Tigers head coach John Hendrick. However, when he tried out for the team under Sanders, he did not make the cut.

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But after coming off a 122-yard performance against the Bulldogs and nearly a 100 on Saturday, Sanders told Marshall’s parents that he was surprising their son with a full football scholarship.

“He deserved it. … He brings hope to people, you’re talking about a guy last year who was filming guys he knew he was better than and waited patiently for his opportunity and when the opportunity presented itself, he presented himself,” Sanders said. “His commitment, his consistency to excellence, he is a model to any walk on in the country through his resilience.”

Marshall, who was shocked, had no clue what was going on when he got in the locker room and his teammates congratulated him.

“To be in the position I’m in right now, and to be able to produce for this team, it’s a blessing,” Marshall said. “I feel like I worked for it.”

Sanders, who refers to Marshall as “38 Special” for the number he wears, said he had been planning the big surprise since the first game of the season. But, the coach needed a little help to pull it off.

“His [Marshall] mother played her role [in the surprise] really well,” Sanders laughed.

The Tigers earned a victory. Despite a week of practices in which the team did not perform well, Sanders earned his first homecoming win in true HBCU style. While soaking up the homecoming experience at JSU’s iconic Gibbs-Green Memorial Plaza, he hopes to find a way to better keep his players focused during homecoming week.

“We practiced like garbage all week, we practiced great on Friday,” Sanders said. “The thing about homecomings at HBCUs, everyone gets involved, and the players ain’t got no business getting involved in everything that goes on campus. We’re happy and elated but they ain’t got no business getting involved and often times they do and they did. I got to figure out how to get them off campus the next time we have homecoming.”

Better luck next time, Coach Sanders. 

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