BOULDER, Colo. — Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders recently met his match on the football field in the form of an intimidating furry figure named Ralphie VI.
By the end, Colorado’s new coach had the roughly 800-pound buffalo mascot eating out of the palm of his gloved hand.
Now that they’ve been formally introduced, Sanders can’t wait to see her run a lap around Folsom Field — weather permitting — before the spring game Saturday.
An expected capacity crowd can’t wait, either, to see a preview of what’s in store under Sanders, the charismatic coach who has generated so much buzz that Colorado’s season tickets have sold out for the first time since 1996.
Sanders has a caveat: What everyone will see this weekend is far from a final version. It’s merely a hint of what’s in store for the Buffaloes, who went 1-11 last season.
“You’re going to be happy with the product that we place on the field for you. I promise you that,” said Sanders, who signed up in December to turn around a downtrodden program. “I don’t want (fans) to be misguided because what you see is not what you’re going to see. … It’s going to be special.”
Sanders and his social media team have let everyone in on what’s happening behind the scenes in Boulder. He’s reviewed restaurants, played table tennis, dispensed advice, met with Buffaloes basketball royalty (Chauncey Billups), donned a cowboy hat, and showed genuine fear when he met Ralphie for the first time.
It was actually a comical video, too, with Sanders in the back of the trailer when Ralphie came charging in after her practice lap in the stadium. His fear amused his quarterback son, Shedeur Sanders.
“I’ve got to talk to him about it,” Shedeur Sanders said. “I know he definitely was scared whenever Ralphie ran back into the trailer, because I was scared through the phone.”
Deion Sanders is trying coming off a wildly successful stint at Jackson State. He’s brought in a veteran coaching staff to Boulder and overhauled the roster through the transfer portal to the point that the Buffs were was recently ranked No. 1 in the transfer-portal class by 247 Sports.
As for player numbers, well, they have to be earned. So far, about 13 players have done enough for one, including receiver/defensive back Travis Hunter, the highly ranked player Sanders brought with him from Jackson State.
“The number doesn’t make me,” Hunter said. “I make the number. I’m just going out there and dominate the whole time.”
Coach Prime is still getting up to speed with the names of all his players. There’s one sure way he remembers your name — stand out in practice.
“I like when they make me know them, when they’re producing, when they’re hustling and they’re getting to the ball,” Sanders said.
There’s already a discernible difference around practice, where they treat every snap as if it were game day.
“He wants everybody to be tough and let everybody know we’re going to win games,” Hunter said. “He doesn’t want anybody to be surprised. He wants people to know the real him and the real team.”
One of the top priorities is boosting an offense that averaged 15.4 points last season, Colorado’s lowest showing since 1982.
That’s quite a contrast from Jackson State, where the offense averaged nearly 38 points last season. Shedeur Sanders was the catalyst, throwing for 3,758 yards and 40 touchdowns to earn the SWAC offensive player of the year award.
He will be counted on again in Boulder, where both the campus and the city are buzzing over the prospects of a big season.
“I went out to eat and then I saw myself in the newspaper on the wall,” he said. ”I’m like, ‘Dang. I didn’t know I was on the wall here.’ We’re so locked in on our jobs and our assignments and just learning the offense. It’s hard to just be around all the noise because I’m not actually around it like that.
“It’s football, home, school.”
Just the way his dad wants it.
“I’m not looking for someone that just wants to come here and have a bag,” Coach Prime said, a reference to success and money. “I want you to have a bag. I want you to earn it. I want you to go get it. Then, I’m going to teach you how to preserve it. How to make it last forever.”