Deion Sanders ‘really happy’ after first Colorado spring football game

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BOULDER, Colo. – Deion Sanders made his grand debut at Folsom Field here Saturday, coaching through the cold weather, revving up the sold-out crowd and taking a bow near midfield before kickoff. 

This was his moment – the first one with a big audience after he was named the new football coach at Colorado in December.

And what a time it was, even though it was chilly and overcast, with no real teams or official score in his first spring football game with the Buffaloes.

“I was amazed,” Sanders said afterward. “I didn’t know it would be like that. But the energy, just walking out the locker room with the team, it was unbelievable. It was one of those moments that you will never forget. It was one of those moments that was something to behold, like you had to be there.”

It started when Sanders led this team onto the field in front of 47,277 fans, most of them bundled up for winter but eager to take part in a revival effort unlike any other in major college football. Last year, the Buffs were 1-11 and quite possibly the worst team in the nation. Five months later, ESPN televised this game and showed Sanders taking off his white cowboy hat and bowing to a crowd that roared.

Who won?

It was a glorified practice, complete with kicking drills and situational scrimmaging. Sanders said he changed the original script for the spring game to avoid injuries because of the wet field. But it’s fair to say that Sanders and Colorado came away winners because they got nearly two hours of live coverage on national television to advertise his program, despite the Buffs having only two winning seasons in the past 17 years.

Sanders, also known as “Coach Prime,” also used the event as an opportunity to show off his program to dozens of recruits who traveled from across the county to watch in person.

He called it the “genesis of a new era.”

By the time the Buffs open the season at TCU Sept. 2, Sanders could have around 60 newcomers on a roster that is limited to 85 scholarships. He is likely to bring in even more players from other colleges through the transfer portal, which remains open until April 30.

Several players from last year’s team already have departed under the pressure of heightened competition, with more to come soon, Sanders said.  

“You all know we’re gonna move on from some of the team members, and we gonna reload,” Sanders said. “We’ve got to get some kids we really identify with, so this process is going to be quick. It’s going to be fast, but we gonna get it done.”

Who stood out?

Sanders’ youngest son Shedeur is the Buffs’ starting quarterback and ended his first drive by finding receiver Travis Hunter in the end zone for a leaping 14-yard touchdown catch.

Both came with Coach Prime from Jackson State. And both are probably the most important players on offense and defense, respectively. In Hunter’s case, he was the nation’s No. 1 recruit in 2022. On Saturday, he wore a gray uniform, which signified that he would play both offense and defense

“Travis is so good, he has the potential to be a top five (NFL draft) pick, offense or defense,” Sanders told ESPN during the broadcast.

Another standout was receiver Montana Lemonious-Craig, who has been at CU since 2020 but is not likely to be among those run off of the team in Sanders’ roster overhaul. He reeled in a 98-yard touchdown catch from Shedeur Sanders, catching it near his own 35-yard line before racing down the right sideline to score.

“I will say we’re heading in a great direction,” Shedeur Sanders said afterward.

How was the atmosphere?

The biggest previous crowd at Colorado for a spring football game was 17,800 in 2008. This one sold out at $10 per ticket, simply because of the hope that Deion Sanders has instilled in the program with his roster overhaul and flamboyantly confident personality.

But it wasn’t picture-perfect Saturday, at least in terms of weather. A full sheet of snow covered the field three hours before game time, requiring a snow plow to push it off. Cold air in the 30s chilled the crowd, too, which is exactly the kind of weather Sanders worried about before he took the job in Boulder.

The handlers in charge of Ralphie, the Buffaloes’ famed live mascot, even decided to hold her back from making her usual stampede on the field before kickoff.

“When I woke up this morning, I did not know it snowed until I went outside,” said Hunter, who is from Georgia. “Once I went outside, I thought to myself ‘we might have to play inside.’ ”

Light snow flurries still didn’t stop the crowd from showing up. Some even came to campus to watch the game even though they didn’t have tickets. About two hours before kickoff, CU fans Keith Carnes and Derek Brown were sitting near a television in the University Memorial Center hoping it would show the ESPN broadcast. They would have attended the game in person but couldn’t get a ticket.

“Normally this game is never heard of,” Carnes said. “Nobody in college football is worried about CU playing CU until now.”

Who was there?

Before the game, the crowd cheered as a lineup of all-time Buff greats were introduced in the end zone. That included former NFL quarterback Kordell Stewart, receiver Michael Westbrook and safety Chris Hudson. All played for CU in 1994, when the Buffs won a Heisman Trophy with the late Rashaan Salaam and finished No. 3 in the national polls.

“This was a welcoming kind of recommitment to the program, and we honored them,” Sanders said. “We gave them the flowers and the roses that they deserve … They built this. They established this. How can you not embrace them and give them the love and respect and honor that they deserve?’

How did Sanders really feel about it?

During the ESPN broadcast, he again thanked the person who hired him at CU – athletic director Rick George. Even though he’s been a head coach before, at Jackson State, Sanders still often expresses awe at his setting and situation in Boulder.

“It was phenomenal,” Sanders said. “I’m amazed and just stoked, if that’s the proper word, about the attendance and about the energy and electricity, and even all of you (the news media). I’m so thankful that God led me in this direction now. It’s been confirmed: The day was phenomenal. I’m really happy, appreciative and thankful.”

Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. Email:

This post appeared first on USA TODAY