The Prime Effect is easy to see in Boulder, even before game day

The Prime Effect is easy to see in Boulder, even before game day

Jenni Carlson: People from as far as Alabama, Florida and Texas came to Colorado for the Southern Cal game this weekend. Why? It boils down to one thing — or one man, as it were — Deion.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Sep 29, 2023, 5:18pm CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Sep 29, 2023, 5:18pm CDT

(Editor’s Note: Sellout Goes Mile-High is our special coverage of the Colorado vs. USC game on Sept. 28. Sellout is sending columnist Jenni Carlson to Boulder to experience the most buzzed-about story in college football and also see what’s new with former OU coach-turned-USC villain Lincoln Riley. Coverage is sponsored by: 988, Oklahoma’s Mental Health Lifeline (https://988oklahoma.com/) |Rose Hill Builders (https://www.rosehill.builders/) |The Oklahoma State Department of Health’s Take Time initiative (https://taketimeok.com/))

BOULDER, Colorado — With his sunglasses on and his white Colorado hoodie up, Aaron Willis struck a pose in front of two closed doors crowned by the words COLORADO FOOTBALL.

His buddy Brandon Harvey snapped cell phone photos.

They came all the way to Colorado from Texas for this.

And more.

“Me personally, I’ve never really had a diehard college football team,” said Willis, who is a longtime Dallas Cowboys fan. “Love the game, but just from seeing the impact he’s made and seeing kids that have a relatable mentor that walks it like he talks it kind of gives me something to support.”

The “he” who Willis is referring to, of course, is Deion Sanders.

The Prime Effect was palpable Friday morning in Boulder, especially around Folsom Field. Less than 24 hours before Colorado’s kickoff against Southern Cal, there was a buzz that locals say has been absent for years. Yes, it’s about the resurrection of the football program, from one-win afterthought to must-see TV, but it’s every bit as much about Deion.

“What he’s been able to do and just transform college football and kind of knock some of the dust off and allow his players to play …,” Harvey said, “it’s like, ‘Let’s go up. Let’s support.’”

Array

The area where Willis and Harvey were taking photos was next to the ticket office and the Buff Team Store where every imaginable piece of Buffs gear is for sale. Hats. Poms. Jerseys. Shirts. Before the store opened at 11 a.m., almost two dozen people milled around the atrium.

Asked if this is how it’s always been, the fellow working the ticket window smiled wide.

“It’s new,” he said.

When the team store opened to shoppers about 10 minutes early, people flooded in, and the line to check out stayed eight or more people deep for more than an hour. One of the first to make a purchase was Kim Hageman, who walked out with a white sweatshirt and a black long-sleeve shirt for her husband.

She has plenty of Colorado gear of her own since she works on campus with Army ROTC, but she was more than happy to pull out her credit card to support football. It has changed the tenor on campus.

“It’s been pretty awesome,” Hageman said. “The feeling around campus, it’s just so energetic. It’s a different feeling.

“Even recruiting-wise for ROTC, it’s been a complete turnaround just for kids coming into campus from other states.”

The change has been noticed on Pearl Street, too, Boulder’s equivalent of Campus Corner or The Strip. Working behind the bar at The Post Chicken and Beer, Caitie Clate said game weekends used to be pretty much the same as any other weekend. Now, thousands of people turn out on Friday for Stampede, featuring the marching band, cheerleaders and such.

“It’s just good to bring some excitement back,” Clate said.

That excitement is evident around lunchtime on Thursdays at The Post. The brewery is the longtime home to the weekly football coach’s show, and last year when Clate served the crowd that came to the show, it was the same people pretty much every week. She knew not only their faces but also their orders.

This year, the crowd changes every week.

Lots of people have jumped on the Buffs bandwagon.

D’Neiko Acevedo and his dad, Maurice Turner, are among the legion of new Colorado fans. Acevedo lives in Alabama, Turner in Florida, but they decided they were coming to Colorado for the USC game before the season.

“And the chaos,” Acevedo said with a smile.

Wearing an oversized baseball jersey and several large chains around his neck, Acevedo talked of his lifelong love of Deion. Acevedo grew up playing cornerback, so he looked up to Sanders, arguably the best corner to ever play the game.

Now, Acevedo appreciates him for a different reason.

“He’s a realist,” he said of Sanders.

His dad nodded.

“I would want my sons to play for him,” said Turner, adding that all of his children are now into adulthood but that he still appreciates Deion’s fatherly nature. “If you send them off to college, you want them to be taken care of.”

While some college football fans have grown weary of Coach Prime, those making the pilgrimage to Boulder from near and far feel quite different. They talk about Sanders with reverence and appreciation.

Willis and Harvey, the friends from Texas, are both graduates of HBCUs. Willis, who now lives in Houston, went to Hampton University in Virginia while Harvey, who lives in Dallas, went to Wilberforce University in Ohio.

“Just seeing what he did for HBCUs and for the notoriety that he gave while he was at Jackson State …,” Willis said of Sanders, “our schools have reputable athletes. They just need the attention. That was definitely something I wanted to support.”

He didn’t get a chance to go to a Jackson State game while Sanders was there, so he felt a Colorado trip was necessary.

Willis, Harvey and two other friends decided to make it so after Colorado’s double-overtime win against Colorado State.

“After we won that, we went ahead and bought the tickets,” Willis said.

“Yeah, we bought the tickets that next morning,” Harvey said.

Harvey said he’s a Michigan fan, but he admits to a growing affinity for Colorado because of Deion.

“Just to see how he has galvanized Boulder,” Harvey said, “not even just financially, but … ”

“It’s the spirit,” Willis said. “We felt it getting off the plane.”

Harvey: “All different spirits. All different colors.”

Willis: “You can feel the energy in the city.”

Hard to argue with that.

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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