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Sunday, July 21, 2024

Deion Sanders’ pastor and friend walks the "higher walk" with "Coach Prime" before every Colorado game

The surging Colorado Buffaloes, under their new coach Deion Sanders, are the surprise of the 2023 college football season, with three wins in their first three games, already surpassing last year’s 1-11 record. And Sanders has a “spiritual coach” helping him along the way.

Sanders, a transplant from historically Black and much smaller Jackson State University, brought many things with him to the University of Colorado — including someone he credits with helping him with his “higher walk,” Atlanta-area pastor Dr. E. Dewey Smith.

Smith, senior pastor at House of Hope Atlanta in Decatur, Georgia, can be found on the sidelines of every Colorado game. He has a special relationship with Sanders. It is a relationship, that according to Smith, started some 20 years ago.

“We were on the same panel. I spoke; he spoke. And we just instantly connected. It’s like we had kindred spirits,” Smith recalled. “We exchanged pleasantries, and from that, we began a relationship. About 10 years ago, we really went deeper. He’s one of my— if not my best friend, now.”

In 2020, “Prime Time” Deion Sanders, as he was known on the field and in the announcing booth, became “Coach Prime” when he took the reins at Jackson State. Around the same time, Sanders’ personal pastor died. Being a man of faith, the new coach said he needed someone to fill that void in his life.

“I need a spiritual coach,” Sanders said. “I need a man of that standard and status to ‘check’ me.”

Sanders turned to his friend.

“We’ve been walking that journey together,” Smith said. “Which I take very seriously.”

That walk has become far more than spiritual and very literal. The pair have been seen walking together to interviews on game days and walking the sidelines as part of Sanders’ pre-game preparations.

“At his first game at Folsom Field in Colorado, he said to me, ‘I don’t want to play a game until you walk this field with me. And I want you to put your feet on the field; let’s walk it together’,” Smith said. “He said, ‘I want to claim this territory. Where we put our feet, God is gonna give it to us.'”

Smith has had a front-row seat for what many have termed “The Prime Effect” — soaring television ratings, huge merchandise sales, ticket sales rolling in — for a university that has been starving for a winning product on the field for years. Colorado’s last winning season was in 2016.

“God often sends His best into the worst situations,” Smith said. “Colorado is the most unlikely place that a Florida boy from Fort Myers would end up.”

Back in Georgia, at House of Hope, Smith faces a full schedule of work on Sundays.

“As long as I’m here on Sundays, for the most part, they (his congregation) will accept it. They see the bigger picture,” Smith said. “But a lot of our members did not know that I was going to Jackson, because it is not something that I talk about. But when the AP took that photograph, and when ESPN posted the photograph of us walking, it was like, ‘Whoa, so this is happening.’ Well, it’s been happening. It’s just now more in the public view. So, I take it as part of my public assignment.”

Smith smiled as if he was considering the larger ramifications of what that means for the first time.

“You typically don’t see a pastor on the sidelines at a football game. But why not? They need prayer,” he said with a thoughtful smile. “Injuries happen. They need motivation. Sports often involves not only the physical, but the spiritual. And he (Sanders) is a spiritual person — he is a man of God. So to be able to instill those sorts of spiritual principles and faith principles into young men and the staff — it’s a beautiful thing.”

How long will Smith serve in his role on the sidelines? “As long as my friend needs me,” Smith said.

Colorado heads to Eugene, Oregon, to face the Ducks this weekend. And Pastor Smith will be right there.

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