For Travis Hunter, Jackson State football was the only choice — 3 reasons he's not alone

J.T. Keith
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

Florida State football coaches were stunned, nearly losing their minds on signing day when the No. 1 Class of 2022 recruit in the country, Travis Hunter, committed to them on March 3, 2020.

But on Dec. 15, 2021, Hunter flipped his commitment to Jackson State. News flash: This will become the new norm in the African-American community and landscape of college athletics.

Here are three takeaways on why this happened and will continue, not only for Jackson State but all HBCUs.  

It's a Black (culture) thing

Ah! To be young, gifted and Black — maybe that’s what the HBCU experience is all about. But the other side of that, and a key component, is the lack of essentials to everyday life such as security, shelter, food, and the chance at a quality education and life — the resources many people take for granted.

It’s no secret that in African-American communities, parents and children deal with things that are akin to other races. There are still absentee-parent(s) homes without the infrastructure of a strong male role model to give guidance to sons and daughters. Some families are still being raised by Big Momma, because parents are in prison, lost to the streets, or in the grave.

“I want to thank all the coaches for taking me in as a freshman,” Hunter said during his college announcement. “Since day one, (Collins Hill High School assistant) Coach (Frontia) Fountain, you have seen something in me that no one else has seen. Always coming to pick me up and making sure that I had something to eat and a place to stay every night. When I first got up here, we didn’t really have any friends. I came up here and it was just football, and I thank my teachers for challenging me and helping me get my grades up. JSU, I am going to give you all I got, and (Jackson State coach) Deion (Sanders), thank you for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I am out.”    

So, when Hunter flipped the script announcing he would trade in his Florida State commitment for Jackson State, what he was really saying was, it's a Black (cultural) thing. Hunter’s decision made a monumental shift in the way the recruiting of the Black athlete is going to be fought for years to come.

Sanders said on ”60 Minutes” that Hunter's commitment to FSU was normal: A big-time recruit goes to a big-time school. But when a big-time recruit chooses to go to Jackson State, he changes the trajectory of so many other kids. Now kids are saying, "If it is good enough for Travis to go there and play, it may be good enough for me." 

NIL has opened up recruiting

The NCAA’s Name, Image and Likeness policy allows college athletes to monetize their name, image and likeness. With NILs being given to African-Americans, and with Power Five athletes, everything has changed: Pandora’s box is now open. For athletes and their families lacking the means to have the basics of life, they will now have status and stature knowing his and their family’s futures are secure should an injury befall them, or if they don't make it to the NFL.

TRAVIS HUNTER SIGNS NIL DEALJackson State’s Travis Hunter signs NIL deal with Michael Strahan Brand

TRAVIS HUNTER RETURNS TO PRACTICETravis Hunter returns to practice for Jackson State football. What Deion Sanders said.

HUNTER TAKING COLLEGE FOOTBALL BY STORMTravis Hunter is ready to take college football by storm — Deion Sanders is counting on it

Hunter signed NIL deals with Michael Strahan by becoming a brand ambassador in tailored and sportswear clothing lines and will appear in brand marketing efforts across print, digital and social media.

“Travis Hunter is a game-changer,” Strahan said, according to Forbes. “This young man had the opportunity to select any school in the country but chose Jackson State University, an HBCU. His decision demonstrates his character, his vision and his confidence. He is also a great teammate. These qualities resonate with me and my brand. I admire this young man and look forward to watching his continued growth.”

Hunter also signed with J5 Caffee, a Black-owned coffee company, and a two-year partnership with Greenwood in July to promote its “Choose Black” campaign. He also signed a deal with SoHoodie, which selected Hunter as its first college athlete as an endorser. He has also signed with Actively Black.

Many African-Americans who come from urban areas are comfortable with the culture at an HBCU. For them, the transition to life in the yard, food, and the type of environment is relatable to where they have come from.

HBCUs on television

No longer do athletes have to go to Power Five schools to be seen on TV or ESPN. Jackson State games can be seen on ESPN+ and ESPN “College GameDay” was on campus on Oct. 29, when they played Southern. Each year, NBC broadcasts the Bayou Classic between Grambling and Southern, with it being played on Nov. 26, 2022. CBS will air HBCU games after signing a deal with Byron Allen (HBCUGO.TV), including 44 games being featured in 12 major markets: New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Dallas, Atlanta, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, Tampa, Detroit, Miami and Pittsburg.

According to the Allen Media Group, games will be available in 60% of TV households and 70% of African-American households. Streaming services have reached agreements with major stations such as Nexstar, Gray, Cox, Scripps, Tegna and Sinclair.

“Allen Media Group is thrilled that the CBS O&O stations have joined our excellent group of broadcast television station partners to increase the reach of HBCU GO’s high-quality sports programming,” Allen said. “We are proud to amplify these amazing athletes and HBCUs, while at the same time helping to finance the education of these young adults. Now sports fans across the country will have access to best-in-class games from America’s HBCUs.”

“Coach Prime (Deion Sanders) changed my mind,” Hunter said. “He let me know how big of an impact I can have on the people, and that is one of the things I wanted — to shine the light on our people (African-Americans) and shine the light on HBCUs.”