Former NFL and MLB player, Deion Sanders pulls up to Prime Prep Academy in Dallas, Texas to start off his day. Before walking into the school a parent dropping off their child pulls up next to him and rolls down their window. Rather than ask for an autograph or picture, the parent leaves Sanders with a smile on his face and a grateful message he won’t forget.
“I haven’t met you before but thank you. Thank you for what you’re doing here and around the city,” the parent said.
For Sanders, working with children on a daily basis is not a job, but rather a passion. Sanders is constantly giving back to the community by not only using his money, but also his time. Sanders sets aside time to coach and mentor our nation’s youth showing actions really do speak louder than any words or money.
“These kids don’t know me as primetime, you know, the athlete or whatever,” Sanders said. “They know me as coach prime, someone who’s investing in their lives.”
Sanders opened Prime Prep Academy charter schools in Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas where he now helps coach the student athletes. He is also the founder of the non-profit organization Prime Time Association and TRUTH sports, where he reaches out to children through sports in order to spread his message of TRUTH.
The acronym TRUTH stands for trust in God, respect myself and others, understand I have unlimited possibilities, try my best and never give up and honor the truth and its creed at all times says Sanders.
“We live that,” Sanders said. “We don’t just wear the cross across our chest, we live that and embody that.”
Prime Prep Academy Athletic Director, George Hegamin says Sanders’ presence and his ability to mentor kids using past experiences from his life is what helps Sanders have such an impact on the kid’s lives.
“They can look at someone that has been successful that is willing to come back and not just spend their money but also spend their time with them teaching them the things that they need to know,” Hegamin said.
Sanders has been filled with faith in God since he was young following his biggest role model, his mother. As a child he would watch his mother work hard to provide for the family and from then on, he decided to emulate his mother’s work ethic throughout the rest of his life. Along the way it became clear that Sanders had also gained another trait from his mother, a passion for working with children.
This passion can clearly be seen while Sanders is coaching his Prime Prep High athletes, including offensive lineman, Matt Green.
“He knows everything about us,” Green said. “He teaches us the game of football. He teaches us about life. It’s more than a game; it’s a family around here. We always stick together.”
Sanders grew up in the rough neighborhood of Fort Myers, Florida where the “norm” was selling drugs and getting high, but he always knew that would not take him where he needed to go. Instead, he focused on his education and athletic performance in order to guide him to success.
Now, after playing in the MLB World Series and winning the NFL Super Bowl twice all in the span of five years, it’s clear why Sanders continues to encourage this same work ethic towards the kids he coaches.
Sanders believes education is the key to success and with it there would be less of the obstacles he faced while growing up such as crime and drugs. Green says Sanders is constantly preaching to them that education is more important than the game, but Sanders says if the kids are going take any of his advice with them in life, he hopes it is this.
“You got to believe,” Sanders said. “If you don’t believe in yourself then nobody else will.”
Although Sanders advice to these kids delivers a serious and important message, Hegamin says the reason the kids listen and relate to Sanders is because he constantly acts like a “jokester” with them. Former Dallas Cowboys teammate, Darren Woodson agrees saying Sanders is full of jokes and doesn’t get enough credit for how funny he is.
“It’s comedy central every second you’re with Deion Sanders,” Woodson said.
Sanders says the comedic tone about his life allows him to come to the kids level by being more relatable and accessible to them if they ever need advice.
When the Prime Prep Academy athletes were asked about Sanders being a jokester they all began to laugh, including wide receiver, Benny Ephriam.
“He’s always joking around just playing with us,” Ephriam said. “He’s our friend. Like he’s our coach at the same time, but he’s like our best friend. He’s always playing with us. He’s more like a Dad to us.”
Ephriam says Sanders always encourages them to think positive, work hard and never give up which helps them be the best that they can be and be confident in themselves.
Sanders stresses the importance of self-confidence to his players because it is a characteristic that helped him choose to live above the influence of drugs and alcohol and instead focus on school and athletics. Confidence is one of the main reasons Sanders was so successful in his NFL and MLB career and continues to be successful now as a coach says Woodson.
“What makes Deion great is his confidence,” Woodson said. “That’s what has always made him a special person and a special football player that he is.”
After working with Prime Time Association, TRUTH sports, and Prime Prep Academy, Sanders says the kids aren’t the only ones learning life lessons.
“The things these kids are really teaching me is just to slow things down in life and really look at it for what it really is,” Sanders said. “They provoke me to be more understanding and more patient.”
At the end of the day, both the players and the coaches at Prime Prep Academy will leave having learned something new from one another and Sanders will end his day the same way he started it, with a smile on his face.
“I do what I love and I love what I do,” Sanders said.