Sanders has amplified JSU’s fan support in the two years since he was hired as head coach.

The Jackson State University (JSU) Tigers football team has the rare opportunity to play in three NFL stadiums this season. 

As reported by the Mississippi Clarion Ledger, the team and head coach, former NFL legend Deion Sanders, will kick off the season Sept. 4 against Florida A&M at Hard Rock Stadium, the home facility of the Miami Dolphins. The team will then take on the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats on Oct. 15 in Jacksonville at TIAA Bank Field. 

Bethune-Cookman recently announced that its home game against Jackson State was being moved from its 9,601-seat stadium in Daytona Beach to the home facility of the Jacksonville Jaguars, which, according to StadiumDB, has a 67,814-seat capacity. (Hard Rock Stadium has a 65,326-seat capacity.) 

The Clarion-Ledger reports that the move reflects just how much Sanders has built JSU’s fan support in the two years since he was hired. The Tigers’ home game attendance dwarfs that of several Power 5 programs, HBCU Gameday reports. The Power 5 conferences are: ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.

If the Tigers make it to the Celebration Bowl, the team could close out the season at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, home of the Atlanta Falcons (71,000), according to the Clarion-Ledger. 

Before Sanders was hired, Jackson State held the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) single-season football attendance record of 38,873, which was set in 1997. Sanders raised that number to 42,293 per game. 

The numbers suggest that the Tigers could be a major draw on the road this season, indicating an interest in the team that hasn’t been shown for decades. 

Sanders indicated that he understands that in order to sustain momentum for the long term, he must continue to build up JSU’s infrastructure. “What’s troubling me now is I’m tired of just being the lightning rod to attract you, because there has to be more,” he said last month in a YouTube interview with comedian Desi Banks, the Clarion-Ledger reported.

“Because now we all have to play team ball and I have to satisfy you. Because now kids are going to Jackson, FAMU, Bethune, Southern, Alcorn, they’re going to all these places because now we have a light of attraction, but when they get there I want to make sure we’re satisfying their needs academically, housing, all the different facets of the needs desired for these kids,” Sanders added.

Last month, during his Lifetime Achievement Award speech at the “BET Awards 2022,” Sean “Diddy” Combs pledged $1 million to both Jackson State University and Howard University. Combs attended the latter school.

The mogul said of his award to Jackson State, according to HBCU Sports, that he was paying it forward to Sanders and JSU because “we should play for us,” referring to calls for elite Black athletes to pursue sports at HBCUs.

“We are so proud about having someone as successful like P. Diddy to acknowledge Jackson State,” said Ashley Robinson, vice president and director of athletics at JSU, WJTV 12 reports. “This goes beyond just the impact of the university,” he said, adding that the City of Jackson also benefits.

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