Robert Brazile says Walter Payton should've won Heisman. Will JSU produce first HBCU winner?
Robert Brazile remembers sitting in a Jackson State dormitory decades ago, talking with a group of players that included fellow Pro Football Hall-of-Famers Walter Payton and Jackie Slater about what they would do to improve JSU once they made it to the NFL.
The legendary linebacker was in tip-top shape then, preparing for a career that would lead to seven consecutive Pro Bowl selections and a spot on the 1970's NFL all-decade team.
"When I was at Jackson State, I was in such good shape that if my mama called and told me she needed me, I could have jogged back to my hometown of Mobile, Alabama," said Brazile.
FIRST DRAFT PICK UNDER SANDERS: James Houston is first NFL Draft pick of Deion Sanders era. Will he be the catalyst for more?
BIG IDEA: 247Sports analyst says Deion Sanders should call Elon Musk for funding to get into Big Ten
NEW COMMERCIAL: Deion Sanders and Nick Saban team up for new Aflac commercial after NIL accusations
These days, Brazile, 69, is living in Mobile where he and his wife raised six children. He says he feels healthier than he's felt in a long time after years of surgeries. He's made an eight-mile bike ride with his wife a part of his morning routine.
He's already made plans to see Jackson State football play against Alabama A&M in Mobile on Nov. 12, and to return to JSU for homecoming on Oct. 22.
Brazile said he's proud of the strides the program is making under coach Deion Sanders. Some of the improvements made to the practice field, such as adding a sand pit and a hill for players to train on, remind him of the old school workouts he and Walter Payton used to do when they were at Jackson State.
"I see the things going on at Jackson State and I tell my wife: Me and Walter did this," Brazile said. "Is Deion in my brain? Is Deion talking to Walter somehow? What’s going on up there? Everything that he’s putting in is the things that we wanted on campus for us. We used to have to go out of the city and get those things like running the hill and finding some sand. Now they have it right on campus."
Jackson State, which finished 11-2 and broke the FCS record for average attendance with 42,293 last season, has the kind of momentum that the program has n seen in decades.
With the college football landscape undergoing major changes due to conference realignment, there's at least one HBCU, Tennessee State, whose athletic director is on record talking about becoming the first to join an FBS conference.
Jackson State athletic director Ashley Robinson told The Clarion Ledger last month that he's focused on dominating at the FCS level for the moment.
Brazile said he'd like to see the JSU stay in the SWAC.
"I think we need to manage what we’re doing," Brazile said. "I’m a member of the SWAC, I’ve been a member of the SWAC and I think HBCU’s need what Deion is doing. Why not take the HBCU’s to another level and not move out of the conference? Let’s stay there and make it what it needs to be. I’m still waiting to see a Heisman come out the SWAC."
JSU once had three Pro Football Hall of Famers on the same team in Brazile, Payton, and Slater. He said his teammates, including Payton, had their accomplishments overlooked because they played in the SWAC.
"The years that I was there, I was surrounded by Hall of Famers," Brazile said. "There were only three of us that made it, but there were so many of us that were there that don’t even get mentioned. Guys like (four-time Pro Bowler) Leon Gray. Other players that need to be in the hall of fame because they didn’t get the recognition we’re getting now. Walter (Payton) should have been the first Heisman (trophy winner) to come out of an HBCU."
But now, with the spotlight Sanders is putting on the SWAC and the kind of recruits he's landing at JSU, Brazile said he thinks JSU will eventually breakthrough and produce a Heisman Trophy winner.
"I’m smelling something right now, I’m going to keep it a secret until I really feel it, but I think we’re going to have a Heisman coming out of Jackson one day," said Brazile.
Will it be five-star cornerback Travis Hunter, the nation's No. 1 overall college football recruit for the Class of 2022 who will also play receiver for JSU?
"It could be Travis, or it could be the quarterback. Shedeur," Brazile said. "What's with this guy coming in and turning this league around? He's been magnificent. After this season, the doors could open up for a lot of things."
Brazile said he's excited to see how season will unfold and how the program will continue to progress under Sanders.
"Deion is a blessing to us," Brazile said. "Deion is the man that we needed, the man we got, and the man we need to support because anything Deion touches turns to gold. I’m so proud to know him and see what he’s doing for my college."
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Will Jackson State produce first HBCU Heisman winner? What Brazile says