Travis Hunter, the No. 1 overall prospect in the Class of 2022, pulled an all-time stunner Wednesday during the first day of the early signing period when he flipped from his Florida State commitment to sign with Jackson State, led by Seminoles legend Deion Sanders. Jackson State is an HBCU that competes in the SWAC at the FCS level, and Hunter's decision to spurn a longstanding commitment to an FBS power in order to sign with JSU will reverberate throughout college football and sports world as a whole.
"This is the biggest signing day moment in the history of college football," said Steve Wiltfong, director of national recruiting for 247Sports, who first reported that Hunter's flip was possible.
Hunter committed to Florida State in March 2020 and remained steadfast in his commitment to the 'Noles over more than a year and a half, even as the program has struggled to gain traction under coach Mike Norvell. But Hunter's flip amounts to a last-second gutting of the best thing Norvell had going for him.
Hunter, who is projected to play cornerback in college, is regarded as a generational talent and was viewed as a potential building block for an FSU team that is just 8-13 over Norvell's first two seasons as coach.
On the flip side, his move is a boost of historic proportions for HBCU football. Sanders has breathed life into the Jackson State program, leading it to an 11-1 record this season and an appearance in Saturday's Celebration Bowl. The Tigers finished 4-8 in 2019, the season before Sanders arrived.
The fact that Sanders poached Hunter from FSU's class is even more stunning considering that Sanders starred at Florida State and remained heavily connected to the university throughout his career.
Hunter is a talented corner, but much like Sanders did during his playing career, he could see action both ways at the next level. Hunter helped Collins Hill High School from Suwanee, Georgia, to a state title victory this month by catching 10 passes for 148 yards and forcing a fumble in a 24-8 win.
Coach Prime called his shot
Sanders is a bit of a showman known to talk a big game. So, perhaps that's why his remarks Tuesday on a Barstool Sports show went somewhat overlooked. In retrospect, his statement was a clear omen of this possibility. It seems "Coach Prime" called his shot.
"Signing day is tomorrow," Sanders said. "I'm going on record to tell you guys we're going to shock the country. I'm telling you right now. You've heard it from me. We're going to shock the country."
Sanders takes out his alma mater
Sanders didn't just play for Florida State; he was a three-time All-American in Tallahassee, Florida, and is one of the program's most iconic players. He helped transform the Noles into a national power under legendary coach Bobby Bowden in the late 1980s. His uniform was retired by the school, and he also played baseball for FSU before going on to a storied pro career in both sports.
Pulling a prospect of this magnitude from the school where he played is a fascinating dynamic. To what extent will it imperil his relationship with Florida State, if at all? Or will the fury of the fanbase merely be directed to Norvell and his staff for failing to finish the job with Hunter?
Time will tell. For now, it's easy to see how Sanders connected with Hunter. Much like Sanders was in his heyday, Hunter is a dynamic athlete capable of playing on both sides of the football. Given that Sanders excelled as a great NFL defensive back, he'll presumably receive a great deal of insight into the position under Sanders at JSU.
Florida State's concerning trajectory
Amid Florida State's struggles during Norvell's first two seasons, the commitment of Hunter emerged as a source of hope for the program. He was the lynchpin of a class ranked No. 12 nationally and second in the ACC and was committed for more than a year and a half. Those rankings immediately dropped following Hunter's defection, and the suddenly diminished class could put Norvell's rocky tenure in even more peril. Following the unsuccessful tenure of Willie Taggart and the unceremonious ending to the Jimbo Fisher era, the Noles needed a player of Hunter's caliber to reverse the program's fortunes and inspire the fanbase. Now that Norvell doesn't have Hunter, where does he go from here? Though he's surely stunned, Norvell put forth a calming message in the aftermath of Hunter's announcement.
Great day for student athletes across the country getting to live out a childhood dream of signing a college scholarship. Respect decisions and celebrate accomplishments. Grateful to be a part of such a wonderful program representing incredible young men and the #NoleFamily 🍢— Mike Norvell (@Coach_Norvell) December 15, 2021
HBCU recruiting could get a major boost
Hunter's pledge to Jackson State unquestionably serves as the most important signing by an HBCU in the modern recruiting era. As such, it could drastically change how HBCUs and FCS programs see themselves in the landscape of the sport. If snagging the No. 1 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite is possible for Jackson State, why can't Tennessee State sign two top 100 players? Why can't HBCU football get the attention and television rights deals it has long deserved?
If Hunter lives up to the hype, he could become the first Jackson State player to be taken in the first round of the NFL Draft since Rashard Anderson and Sylvester Morris in 2000. There were no players from HBCU's taken in the 2021 NFL Draft. If Sanders can make Jackson State -- as well as the SWAC and HBCU football -- a destination for high-caliber prospects, he could shift the power dynamics within the sport considerably.