FLOWER MOUND, Texas -- Before practice started at Marcus Marauders Stadium on the campus of Flower Mound Marcus High School, the team's mood was lighthearted and jovial, as is usually the case with any team that begins its season 4-0.
On the sideline, a group of quarterbacks showed off their long-snapping skills to the Marauders' starting center. After a few failed attempts by a backup quarterback, starter Deion Sanders Jr. stepped up and said, "Give me a shot, I can do this."
"Of course you can," the center said almost instantaneously. "You're Deion Sanders Jr."
The statement has nothing to do with the quarterback's pedigree -- he is the son of the former Dallas Cowboys star cornerback -- but everything to do with the work ethic and willingness to learn from the staff of coaches at Marcus.
"[Sanders'] skill levels and his work ethic is 100 percent a gift to his dad," quarterbacks coach Greg Cranfill said. "His dad tells everybody, 'I don't care if he's the best, I just want him to be the hardest worker.' And that right there is the kind of things we enjoy coaching. And we have a room full of kids like that, so he fits in well here."
Before the season began, there was criticism toward starting Sanders Jr. for his first year of varsity as a junior, but the knowledge he brought to the table from growing up around the game and his natural talent has put him ahead of the game, Marcus head coach Bryan Erwin said.
"He's come here and been a hard worker," Erwin said. "He's very conscientious and very coachable. He wants to please his coaches and teammates. He's really embraced the challenge of becoming a quarterback."
The younger Sanders said he was able to take mental reps every time he was around his dad growing up, and that's what has given him the knowledge he has now to succeed in his first year starting on varsity. He was about 6 when his father was playing with the Cowboys, and he remembers how big the whole experience was to him back then.
"As a kid everything was just much bigger," Sanders said." The stadium was gigantic. The players were like 6-6 and taller. It was huge."
Junior said he even had his own locker that had his name on it and his own customized uniform in the locker room at Texas Stadium.
His father has taught him how to play quarterback at the high school level because he himself played the position in high school. But the father has been respectful of the coaching staff at Marcus, going so far as to tell Erwin thate he will help how he can but wants to respect that Erwin is the head coach. The elder Sanders has gained the respect of Cranfill for the relationship he has with his son.
"Deion is Prime Time on TV," Cranfill said. "But when he's around here, he's just [Junior's] dad. The knowledge he has has helped Junior, but it's not so overwhelming that [Junior] is turned off to football. It's because Junior wants to know this stuff."
Sanders Jr. has taken that knowledge from his coaches and his father and has put together a successful season, passing for 146 yards and two touchdowns as well as running for 91 yards and one touchdown. His coaches said his value right now comes from details that aren't as noticeable, such as forcing defenses to assign a player to guard him and opening holes for the Mauraders running backs to have huge seasons to date.
Marcus has what might be its toughest challenge yet Friday in a rivalry game against the high-powered Flower Mound offense. How does young Sanders think his team will fare?
He expects the other talent the Mauraders have around him to lead them to the state championship. He's said he's just along to pitch in however he can.