Deion Sanders. The man who they call “Prime Time.”
The man who possibly drew more attention to himself than any other athlete ever, but then backed it up on the playing field.
The only man to ever score an NFL touchdown and hit a Major League Baseball home run in the same week.
That same man was at the Under Armour National All-American Combine recently addressing a group of about 150 high school underclassmen assembled at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg.
The first thing he asked of those sitting, fully attentive, in a half circle around him was to be “humble.”
It was quite an interesting contradiction coming from a man who once was quoted as saying, “They don't pay nobody to be humble.”
The former Florida State All-American once showed up to a Seminoles game in a limo, wearing a tuxedo.
On this day, however, he wanted his audience to be quiet, to listen and, for a moment, just forget who they were or who they thought they were.
“Nobody here knows you. We don't know you,” Sanders said. “Give us six or seven seconds and just listen.”
The man who was — and still is — all about the swagger, wanted to see no swagger.
Sanders took time from his busy schedule after coaching up the Under Armour athletes to talk a little bit about the differences in the current recruiting world compared to his experience that ended with him picking FSU in 1985.
“When I was coming up, coaches really took pride in putting their name beside you,” said Sanders, who most recently was serving as the football coach at Prime Prep Academy in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, the school he co-founded. He now works for the NFL Network as an analyst.
He attended North Fort Myers High School, and that's where then Seminoles head coach Bobby Bowden's staff found the multi-talented athlete, starring in four sports — football, basketball, baseball and track.
“I only saw Coach Bowden once. He was the closer,” said Sanders, who credited the late Bob Harbison with handling most of his recruitment. “Every player he signed turned out to be three- or four-year starters at Florida State and he only signed three or four players a year. But he did it all. He came to basketball games to watch you play, he came to practices. … When he saw something in you, he wanted to be sure, so he came several times to make sure he was right.”
Before social media and players e-mailing their highlight reels to college coaches, Sanders said most coaches had to rely on what they witnessed in person or learned from the high school coaches.
Recruits rarely spoke with college coaches. In fact, Sanders said his contact was “none whatsoever.”
“They called my high school coaches and that's how they worked,” he said. “They'd find out what type of kid I was and what type of character I had.”
It's hard to believe that "Prime Time" was not out there advertising himself, but he said the footwork done by college coaches in the mid-1980s was far more important to successful recruiting than what happens today with highlight hyper-links, social media and websites full of recruiting analyses.
“Nowadays, guys are putting highlight tapes together. … It's one thing to put together five clips of them having five good plays, but then you gotta ball, man. They gotta see you play,” he said. “It's easy to put together five good plays. That's almost like saying, ‘I've had a great life with no trials and tribulations because I put a highlight tape together of my life.' … Nah man, I've been through hell and high water.
“So it's changed from that aspect tremendously.”
What hasn't changed is Deion. He's still got the flash, still brings the bling and everywhere he goes, people watch, and listen.
Monday he posted on his Twitter account, taunting fellow Hall of Famer Jerry Rice that he would be suiting up for the NFL Pro Bowl, which is in Hawaii, Jan 26. Sanders and Rice are honorary Pro Bowl captains and will “draft” teams fantasy-football style to drum up more excitement for the event.
Sanders tweeted from his @DeionSanders account, “Ladies and Gentlemen I am officially announcing “I WILL SUIT UP IN HAWAII” Please let @JerryRice know that a real captain leads by example!”
Of course, that proclamation has been toned down since, but the effervescent Sanders is certainly doing his part to generate buzz for the Pro Bowl.
He always commands attention, whether he wants it or not.
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Twitter at @Os_Recruiting and Facebook at Orlando Sentinel Recruiting, Instagram at os_recruiting and on Pinterest at Orlando Recruiting.