Early during Sunday’s Prime Elite Underclassmen Camp, Miles Weston was running a drill against Deion Sanders. The outsole of the Venice High School freshman wide receiver’s cleat was torn clean off as he was coming out of his break.
Without saying a word, Sanders, the Pro Football Hall of Famer and two-time Super Bowl champion, motioned for a black gym bag. Sanders pulled out a pair of white Under Armour cleats with pink laces and gave them to Weston, who went on with his quest to gain exposure at the camp at Bishop Verot that was attended by some of Florida’s top recruits and evaluated by ESPN recruiting analysts.
In his return to his hometown, Sanders, the North Fort Myers High alum, showed a side of himself that is well known in the Dallas area and in cities around the country where he’s hosted previous camps. Prime Time, the teacher and coach, was on full display in Fort Myers.
“This is what I do regardless of the location, the area code, the zip code,” Sanders said. “I’m a high school football coach, I’m a youth football coach.
“This is my comfort zone. When my feet are on this turf or some grass that’s where I’m most comfortable.”
Weston didn’t have time to think about his next move after his cleat fell apart before Sanders offered his help. The Venice underclassmen knew of Deion’s Hall of Fame career, watching his highlights on YouTube, but never expected to get any face time with him.
“It was a nice gesture,” Weston said. “He didn’t know me. I really appreciated that he’d help me out like that.”
Sanders took an interest in many of the nearly 600 athletes from quarterbacks to defensive lineman throughout the day. He spent the beginning of the camp reconnecting with old friends and made some new ones in the process.
Cypress Lake rising sophomore receiver Mason Stahlhut walked over to introduce himself to Sanders and informed Sanders he is the grandson of former North Fort Myers assistant coach Wade Hummel, who coached Sanders. Stahlhut recalled his grandfather’s stories of Sanders’ greatness on the field.
“That’s family right there,” Sanders said as he hugged Stahlhut.
“I’m blessed to live where I live and to know who I know,” Stahlhut said. “I didn’t know him and he treated me like family.”
Billy Tucker, who’s worked with Sanders for a decade through Under Armour camps and the All-America Game, said Sanders was in his element.
“He’s a teacher at heart,” Tucker said of Sanders. “He loves teaching. He loves coaching. He loves affecting young kids.
“I know Fort Myers was deep in his heart. He has a lot of teams in Texas he works with – youth teams, he’s a high school coach himself. I think he wanted to come here and put his hands on these kids today in Fort Myers and have them walk away with something that makes them better football players, but also better people.”
Naturally, the Hall of Fame cornerback took extra interest in the defensive backs. During drills, he wasn’t shy about pointing out something he didn’t like as he did when a defensive back hung with a receiver throughout his route before slowing down for just a second toward the end of the play.
“Finish,” Sanders yelled.
And after the drills, he sought out as many players as he could find to pat them on the back for a job well done.
Sanders offered unsolicited advice and answered as many questions as he could from the players.
But there was one takeaway he hoped the assortment of talent took home with them.
“Fundamentals. And just hustle,” Sanders said. “A lot of people just rely on athleticism. And they don’t understand it may get you there, but it won’t keep you there. Some (kids) give up and I don’t like that. If you’ll quit on a play, you’ll quit on a job, you’ll quit on a responsibility. We’re just trying to instill some of these things that they need to hear as young men.”
Tucker could only smile as he watched Sanders take a hands-on approach with player after player.
“My first thought — because I see it every week — is does that player realize the guy who’s holding him by the arm is the best to ever play that position?” Tucker said. “You’re getting a dialogue with Deion Sanders. Do you know what that means? You can’t put a price tag on that. Most kids realize that. The legend of Deion Sanders really never dies.”
ESPN National Recruiting Director Tom Luginbill said that even having been retired for 14 years Sanders still holds the attention and respect of a high school athlete.
“Deion is one of the few professional athletes that transcends generations,” Luginbill said. “People my age who grew up watching him in college recognize him as Prime Time and so does a 16-year old now. When he shows up at a place, when he speaks, everyone’s going to listen. That carries a lot of weight doing these type of camps. He’s not just out there to show his face, he gets really into it. He’s hard on them and he’s going to coach them hard.”
And, according to Tucker, there are plans in the works for him to continue coaching athletes in Southwest Florida on an annual basis.
When asked if he’d return to Fort Myers, Sanders was certain.
“Most definitely,” Sanders said.