This story originally appears in the 2023 Football Preview Issue of Mile High Sports Magazine. Click here to read the digital issue. 

Shedeur Sanders is not your typical University of Colorado quarterback. He’s always on the move, constantly maneuvering his way around life to leverage himself, his family and his brand to the max.

Sanders spoke with Mile High Sports at one of his youth camps, an opportunity that comes to life partly because of his brand and community impact. Gatorade is the proud sponsor of Shedeur’s camp, so naturally, that’s where the conversation began.

“I’d definitely say orange,” Shedeur says in response to an age-old question: What’s your favorite flavor?

But just seconds after proclaiming orange as the top Gatorade flavor, he smiles, thinks a little bit, and with that Sanders family swagger, says, “Well, actually, my favorite is the mystery Gatorade. That’s my favorite. But it hasn’t come out yet, though.”

A small conversation with Shedeur gives us a glimpse into the mind of Colorado’s new starting quarterback. Who would doubt that orange is his favorite flavor of Gatorade, yet how could a mystery flavor be his favorite if it’s not out yet? Sure, he could probably get his hands on as much “mystery” flavor as he wants, but in the moment, Shedeur knows exactly what he’s doing: He’s playing the brand game, leveraging his name, image and likeness to his advantage. It’s just another way to keep the hype train moving into Boulder and beyond.

The dedication to branding continues beyond there. The football program at Colorado has had several team building events during the offseason – a team barbecue, for example – but Sanders’ commitment to his brand even carries over off the field.

“I got my own barbecue sauce; it’s kinda spicy,” Sanders says with his entrepreneur cap on. “I’m going to post it on
Instagram, put it on my story and I’m going to put it in my bio on Instagram. I can’t eat anybody else’s barbecue. I’ve got to eat my own. I’m not able to munch on any barbecue if it’s not one of my own sauces.”

Sanders is a man with a brand, through and through.

“If it ain’t about the brand, I can’t do it. Everything I do is around it,” he says unapologetically.

Sanders comes to Colorado after his father, NFL Hall-of- Fame cornerback Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders, who made
the jump to a Power 5 program following a 27-6 record running the Jackson State University football program. While the jury is still out on whether or not Coach Prime and his family will be able to turn around a sputtering Colorado program in Year 1, there is a noticeable energy shift around the program tied solely to their arrival.

The Sanders Family brand runs deep and has made an immediate impact. Not only did the spring game sell out – the spring game! – but CU has already sold out two home games for this season, Sept. 9 against Nebraska and Oct. 13 against Stanford. Furthermore, season tickets are sold out for the first time since 1996. The Coach Prime Effect is real.

While Colorado is not considered home to Shedeur and his family, they are starting to fall in love with all the Centennial State offers. Coach Prime can be seen wearing cowboy hats frequently and has already upgraded his ride to get something better suited for the snow. While it’s an adjustment, the Sanders family is learning to love Colorado.

“I love being out here in Colorado because it matches me,” says Shedeur. “I want to be out of the way of everything and just don’t want to be around any distractions. I love being in Colorado. I love being in Boulder.”

There is plenty of hype around the Buffs this season. There is no question that the additions of Coach Prime and Shedeur are already paying dividends from a business perspective. The recently dormant program is now constantly talked about in the national media, other coaches can’t keep the Sanders’s name out of their mouths, and the school is preparing to leap back into the Big 12.

To put the power of the Sanders brand into perspective, consider that Shedeur has 1 million followers on Instagram. Conversely, the CU football page has 524K, and the Pac-12 page has 163K. The Sanders family has mastered the art of branding, marketing and influence, allowing them to seemingly stay one step ahead of the game. They’re playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers.

For Rick George, Colorado’s athletic director, landing Shedeur and Coach Prime was a necessary roll of the dice. The Buffs have yet to win a bowl game since joining the Pac-12 and have been teetering on irrelevance on the football field following a 1-11 showing last season to pair with six consecutive losing seasons. Bringing in the Sanders family does not guarantee immediate success on the field, but it helps re-establish the Colorado Buffaloes brand and identity on a national scale.

“My dad – he’s a visionary, so he sees things out of the bigger picture,” Shedeur says. “A lot of people won’t understand his decision with a lot of things. But at the end of the day, I know he thinks things through. He’s the car, I’m just the engine. I’m just going to be the one that keeps things going, you know?

“If it’s his dream, his desire, if it’s something that aligns with him and he thought everything through and the reason why with everything, then I’m going to just follow and do what he says.”