CANTON, Texas — Alabama coach Nick Saban’s comments that Jackson State paid a recruit $1 million to play football at the historically Black college and university echoed far and wide Wednesday night. By Thursday morning, a source said, Saban reached out to Sanders’ representatives to chat.
Sanders isn’t interested in a private conversation.
“I haven’t talked to Coach Saban. I’m sure he’s tried to call. We need to talk publicly — not privately. What you said was public. That doesn’t require a conversation. Let’s talk publicly and let everybody hear the conversation,” Sanders told Andscape on Thursday.
“You can’t do that publicly and call privately. No, no, no. I still love him. I admire him. I respect him. He’s the magna cum laude of college football and that’s what it’s going to be because he’s earned that.
“But he took a left when he should’ve stayed right. I’m sure he’ll get back on course. I ain’t tripping.”
Sanders, who has done several Aflac insurance commercials with Saban, also issued a warning. As a former NFL star who has relationships with dozens of players he met either when he covered the draft for 14 years as an employee of NFL Network or as a head coach at the Under Armour All-America Game, Sanders said coaches don’t want him talking about what he knows when it comes to paying players.
“I don’t even wear a watch and I know what time it is. They forget I know who’s been bringing the bag and dropping it off,” Sanders said. “I know this stuff. I’m not the one you want to play with when it comes to all of this stuff.”
Saban, speaking Wednesday night to local business leaders in Birmingham, Alabama, to promote the World Games, spoke for several minutes about paying players, name, image and likeness (NIL) deals and their effect on college football.
Saban didn’t name the player, but Travis Hunter, ranked No. 2 on the ESPN 300 recruiting list, flipped from Florida State to Jackson State in December.
“Jackson State paid a guy $1 million last year that was a really good Division I player to come to school,” Saban said. “It was in the paper. They bragged about it. Nobody did anything about it.”
The Southeastern Conference publicly reprimanded Saban on Thursday for his comments.
Sanders dismissed the notion of Hunter earning anywhere close to $1 million.
“I don’t make a million. Travis ain’t built like that. Travis ain’t chasing a dollar. Travis is chasing greatness. Travis and his family don’t get down like that,” Sanders said. “They never came to us in search of the bag. They’re not built like that. This kid wants to be great.
“He wants my hands on him. He wants me to mold him. He wants me to be his navigational system through life. He wants to be that dude.”
Hunter, the first five-star player to sign with an FCS school, idolized Sanders as a kid. Hunter’s father rooted for the San Francisco 49ers, which is how Hunter became such a Sanders fan. Jackson State also signed receiver Kevin Coleman, the seventh-ranked wideout in the ESPN 300.
“Once upon a time the bag was just a bag. Now, there’s equality among the big boys. We don’t have those types of bags. We don’t have the boosters and donors and givers,” Sanders said. “Leave me out of that mess y’all got going on.
“What about Kevin Coleman? Who’s he? He spoke on [his counterpart’s] behalf because you don’t want that to happen again. You don’t want that to happen next year that we get another big-time player or two or three or four. Now, that’s flipping the game. I understand the game. I get it. I’m not mad.”
A source said Hunter has two current NIL deals and two pending. The deals are worth less than $250,000.
Saban also said Texas A&M paid all of its recruits to sign with the Aggies. Sanders said he didn’t think Saban was taking personal shots at him or Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher.
“Coach Saban wasn’t talking to me. Coach Saban wasn’t talking to Jimbo Fisher. He was talking to his boosters. He was talking to his alumni. He was talking to his givers. He was trying to get money,” Sanders said. “That was what he was doing. He was just using us to get to where he was trying to get to.”