After suffering a lacerated liver in nearly two weeks ago in the Buffaloes’ double-overtime win over Colorado State, two-way superstar Travis Hunter is still out indefinitely. Head coach Deion Sanders took some time in the locker room prior to the Buffaloes’ ugly loss in Oregon to address Hunter’s situation with the team.

   In a video taken by Deion Sanders, Jr., “Coach Prime” held up his phone and read a text exchange between him and his injured cornerback/wide receiver — who didn’t make the trip to the Beaver State — from earlier in the week. “I need to play this week. We need to get everything I can, so I can get back on the field, ” Hunter texted. “I’m not taking no for an answer.”

   Sanders made it clear to Hunter — and his team — that was never an option. “No. You ain’t ready, and I care about you more than I care about this game,” he replied. “You’re going to change the game of football one day, when you’re healthy and ready. Your future is brighter than mine ever will be, and ever was. Relax and get ready.

   Sanders looked up from his phone, and to his team. “I love you, son.”

   After a pause, the coach put his phone at his side and addressed his team directly. “I care about y’all more than I care about this game,” he explained. “But I want you to learn — throughout this game, and throughout our trials and tribulations — who you are.”

   The Buffaloes, who were caught on video stomping on the Oregon “O” at the 50-yard line (quarterback Shedeur Sanders notably complained about the Rams’ gathering on the buffalo painted on the 50-yard line at Folsom Field the previous week), and talking the expected smack that college-aged kids do, rubbed the Ducks and their head coach, Dan Lanning, the wrong way. Lanning, visibly frustrated about the attention that the Buffaloes were getting nationally at what he seemingly perceived to be at the expense of his higher-ranked program, made sure that the entire country paid attention to the 42-6 thumping that Oregon gave Colorado last Saturday in Eugene.

Prime Time for tough love after the loss

   Not that Sanders was in the moping mood after the game. “Get your butt up and let’s go,” he said he told his players. “We ain’t got no time for a pity party. There’s nobody walking around the locker room with napkins and tissues. Get your butt up, get on that plane and let’s go. We got work to do.”

   Part of that work will be to try and cover for Hunter’s absence against the visiting, sixth-ranked USC Trojans and the presumed top pick in next spring’s NFL Draft, quarterback Caleb Williams. The defending Heisman trophy winner, Williams is one of the favorites to win it again this season. Hunter, who Deion Sanders called the “best” player of both offense and defense, is irreplaceable on the field, but prior to the season, five-star recruit Cormani McClain was considered a possibility to start opposite Hunter, even as a true freshman. As the season drew closer, however, it became clear that the coaching staff didn’t think McClain was anywhere ready for prime time, with Sanders explaining McClain’s timeframe thusly: “Cormani’s seeing the field is up to Cormani.”

   Now that the Buffaloes could really use him, however, Sanders was asked for an update this week regarding McClain’s progress as a player. His answer was unflinching, blunt, and for McClain, embarrassing… and that was undoubtedly the point.

   “Study. Prepare,” Sanders said without hesitation, pausing for effect between each clipped sentence.

“Study, prepare, and be on time for meetings.

Show up to the ‘durn’ meetings.

Understand what we’re doing as a scheme.

Want to play this game.

Desire to play this game.

Desire to be the best in this game; at practice, in the film room… and on your own free time.”

   The conference room now made quiet by McClain’s excoriation — a first for Sanders as the Buffaloes’ head coach — “Coach Prime” answered the question, but in reality, he was addressing McClain directly.

   “You do know that I check film time for each player [each] week,” he continued. “On Thursday, I need film time from the whole staff, so I can see who’s been preparing. And that’s not just about Cormani; it’s about a multitude of them. So, if I don’t see that — you would be a fool to put somebody out there [that’s] unprepared.”

   There’s little doubt about that, especially when facing Williams, who tops the nation in passer efficiency rating with a ridiculous 223.07, and has thrown 15 touchdowns and no interceptions.

   The Buffaloes, now unranked, once again face long odds against the visiting Trojans. They won’t have Hunter, and Sanders made it abundantly clear that McClain isn’t ready to help yet, either. But the statements that “Coach Prime” did make about his pair of elite corners speaks volumes about the way his program is going to be run — and counters the national narrative that Sanders is building a team of mercenaries to be switched out on a yearly basis.

   Only time will tell if Boulder is merely a stop on his journey, or if the man once known as “Prime Time” will become a Buffaloes institution, but he made one thing clear during the week: he’s invested in his young players. He’s invested in prioritizing their health and development; and whether it’s a gentle, guiding hand, or a dose of tough love, Sanders is proving to be more than capable of deploying each when necessary… and that’s how great programs – eventually – get built.