Often wearing his signature sunglasses and gold chain, Deion Sanders directed one of the hottest winter dramas in college football this year despite his previous concern about a strange substance that sometimes falls from the sky in Colorado.
He wasn’t accustomed to it. He’s from Florida, with recent residences in Texas and Mississippi. He also said he never played in it during his 14 years in the NFL. “God has blessed me that much,” Sanders said last month.
But then he got hired as the new head coach of the Colorado football team in early December, setting up a winter unlike any other for him and his new employer. He says he loves it there, including the weather, which he has talked about regularly with a particular purpose.
He said it on national signing day – “It isn’t that cold.”
He said it at the site of the Super Bowl in February when asked about his new job – “You’ve got mountains with snow on it, and it’s not even cold.”
He said it again later that month. “It’s not cold,” he insisted while walking in the snow with boots and a stocking cap.
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Now that winter ended last week and spring football practices are underway in Boulder, here’s a look at why all of his talk about the weather in the winter remains part of a larger strategy for his team’s success in the fall.
In less than four months, Sanders has leveraged his fame and personality to electrify the national profile of a downbeat football program while recruiting top players to Colorado from across the nation. He even persuaded many of them to come from warm-weather states such as Florida, helping the Buffaloes assemble the nation’s No. 1 class of incoming transfer players for 2023, according to 247Sports.
He’s still trying to reel in more of them, too – which is why he kept trying to spread the word about the weather and all that white stuff.
“I know you guys think it’s cold because you see snow – it’s not cold,” Sanders said in a video posted by Reach the People Media on Feb. 23.
The goal is to debunk a mistaken impression about Colorado formed by those from other parts of the country, particularly in the Southeastern U.S., where some have never seen snow in person.
True, it can be downright frigid in the winter at times, as it was in the Denver area for much of January with an average temperature of 25 degrees. But it largely wasn’t like Sanders or his family expected.
The marketing machine
Sanders’ eldest son, Deion Jr., is a former SMU football player who now plays a key role in marketing his father’s new football program to the world, especially to potential new recruits. He shoots videos and posts them on YouTube and Instagram nearly every day, each usually showing slices of life involving his father, CU football and Boulder.
Before they moved there recently, he and his family had a different idea about Colorado. They and many others from states without much snowfall came to think it was more like an unbearable Arctic hellscape all winter just because it was known for snowy mountains.
“We were just like, ‘It’s freezing out there. It probably snows every day,’” Sanders Jr. said in an interview last month with USA TODAY Sports.
Then when he started living there, he said he realized that “it’s not like that.”
Boulder often has mild winter days in the 50s, with lots of sunshine. In January, coach Sanders even found that snow can be fun. He went snowmobiling in Vail and seemed awestruck by it, though he did suffer some altitude sickness.
“It’s a beautiful day damn near every day,” Sanders Jr. said.
His job with the camera is to help show this on those videos so that potential recruits in warmer-weather states don’t cling to the same wrong notion about what might be too cold for comfort.
What is too cold?
It’s all relative and subject to perspective. But perception matters when recruiting players to Colorado from the Southeast, especially among prospects who seldom needed to wear a jacket. Coach Sanders said as much last month when he announced a recruiting class that included a school-record seven newcomers from Florida. He wants more from there in 2024 and beyond, hoping to turn around a program that has had 15 losing seasons in the past 17 years.
“Once they realize that it isn’t that cold, it’s gonna be all good for my Florida boys,” said coach Sanders, also known as Coach Prime.
CU’s class of 42 newcomers announced last month included four from Georgia, also the most the school ever signed from that state.
Coach Sanders hopes to get more from there, too. According to 247Sports, Colorado currently ranks 20th nationally in recruiting for 2024 with five committed prospects, two of whom also are from Georgia.
The team practices indoors anyway.
“I got used to it,” said Sanders’ youngest son, Shedeur, CU’s quarterback. “Now I just go outside with a sweatshirt and shorts. I’m cool now. I’m a Colorado boy.”
Why it matters
This often has been a recruiting issue at Colorado: The Buffaloes need to attract top prospects from outside of the state because there just isn’t enough in-state talent to compete at a high level. But much of the best talent comes from regions that are generally warmer in the winter and seldom get snow – Southern California, the South, Florida and Texas. So why would they come to a faraway place like Colorado that is known for its snow-covered ski slopes?
Former CU head coach Bill McCartney was able to make the sale in the 1980s and ‘90s, building an elite program that won a share of the national championship in 1990 with recruits from across the country. As a recruiter, he often pitted the beauty of Boulder against the barren plains of CU’s then-powerhouse rival Nebraska.
Now Sanders has dramatically increased Colorado’s national recruiting appeal based on his national fame and personality alone as a former two-sport superstar.
Yet that old “too-cold” stereotype of Colorado still seems to get in his way sometimes, as it did for even himself when his current boss at Colorado, Rick George, tried to recruit him away from his previous coaching job at Jackson State in Mississippi.
“When I got the first call from Rick, I said to myself, `It’s cold up there,” Sanders said in a video produced by CU.
“He asked me how cold it is,” George said on the video. “That was always something that we talked about.”
George tried to address Sanders’ concerns by explaining how Colorado weather often turns quickly. He sent him a photo of snowfall early one day and said, “I’ll send you a picture at the end of the day and you’ll see the snow is mostly melted.”
It’s not near an ocean so the air can be dry with plenty of sunshine at elevations a mile above sea level, where radiation is more intense.
“The fact that we’re displaced away from the oceans is one factor that reduces the amount of moisture available, and that can be something that inhibits the development of more locked-in masses of clouds that can give us sort of those dreary winter days you might be more accustomed to on the East Coast,” said Andrew Winters, an assistant professor at The Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at CU. “As a result, we generally have more days of sunshine per year as a result of that drier climate. That increased sun that we get can certainly make temperatures that are cold feel better.”
Many of Sanders’ new players didn’t seem to spend too much time worrying about it anyway. They came because of Coach Prime and their trust in him. Now they like what they’ve seen, including new CU receiver Jimmy Horn Jr., a transfer from South Florida.
“Man, I love Boulder,” Horn said in a recent interview on the CU website.
The team is on spring break this week and resumes spring practice after that, when both the weather and competition are expected to heat up before the spring game finale on April 22. The Buffs then open the season in the Texas heat at TCU on Sept. 2.