Deion Sanders Honors Late Youth Football Coach Who Suffered a Heart Attack Before His Hall of Fame Win

Former NFL cornerback Deion Sanders is remembering the youth football coach who paved the way for his athletic success and died two days after his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction

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Former NFL cornerback Deion Sanders is remembering the youth football coach in Florida who helped paved the way for his athletic success — and who died just two days after Sanders’ Pro Football Hall of Fame induction.

The 49-year-old athlete made an appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America on Thursday, kicking off GMA‘s Super Coach Surprise. The contest, thrown in tandem with NFL On Location Experiences, looks to award one inspirational coach from around the country with a Super Bowl vacation — including two tickets to the big show.

Talking about his own coaches, Sanders shocked the audience and GMA hosts with a story about his Pop Warner coach Dave Capel.

Deion Sanders

Capel coached Sanders from 1977-79 on the Fort Myers Rebels. Forming a close bond with the young athlete, Capel followed Sanders through high school, college and the pros — where the 6 ft 1 in star played with the Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens.

Sanders even flew Capel and his wife Helen to see him compete at his eight Super Bowls games — including the two he won with the 49ers and Cowboys.

When Sanders was selected for the Hall of Fame, it only made sense for Capel to be there too. But the coach would miss the ceremony, suffering a heart attack the Saturday before the ceremony and dying on Aug. 8, 2011.

“He was so excited that he had a heart attack that week and he passed,” Sanders told GMA. “That broke my heart because what he meant to me.”

2011 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony
Jason Miller/Getty

Sanders praised the Capels for stressing the importances of academics and offering him and his mother — who were living in a poverty-stricken neighborhood — to opportunities they never dreamed of.

“They exposed me to so much,” Sanders said. “The first time I ever flew on a plane, they took me and my mother — we couldn’t afford that stuff. … We had to have a certain GPA to even remain on the team [and] his wife Helen was unbelievable.”

“They were a blessing to my life,” Sanders added. “I wouldn’t be here without them.”

Sanders echoed those statements in his 2011 Hall of Fame speech, where he credited Capel for being “so vital in who I am, what I am, and where I am today.”

Capel saw Sanders talents from the first time he picked up a ball, he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 2011. That skill was on display during the Rebels’ national championship game in Georgia — when they competed again an opposing team that on paper, they would never beat.

“They had a passing quarterback, they beat everybody,” Capel recalled. “All we had was Deion, who could run the ball. So the first play I did a misdirection. Everybody went one way, he went the other. They had one guy out there and he couldn’t come close to catching him. We stopped them and got the ball back and did the same thing the other way. He scored again. They kept saying, ‘Where did that little kid come from? Where did that little kid come from?’ They couldn’t figure out how he could zigzag so fast. He lived across the street from a cemetery. When he got off the bus from school, he had to run through the cemetery to get to his house. He was scared to go through it, so he zigzagged as fast as he could.”

Deion Sanders
Deion Sanders. Steve Jennings/Getty

The experience with his late coach also inspired Sanders to dedicate his life to helping kids. He used the model Capel established on the Rebels as the basis for his TRUTH Youth Academic & Sports — a non-profit organization in Dallas that helps kids off the streets by bringing them to sports.

In October, he shared photos of his TRUTH organization — and looked back at how the Capels inspired its success in the post’s caption.

“I thank God for Dave and Helen Capel, my pop warner coach and wife from Ft. Myers, Florida,” Sanders wrote. “They loved me like their own child, made sure me and my teammates did homework, kept our grades well above average, disciplined us and exposed us to many things that provoked us to dream big.”

“If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be where I am, and there wouldn’t be #Truth,” he continued. “Stop taking what u do for granted! You could be raising a young world changer.”

Sanders is now works as an analyst for CBS Sports and the NFL Network. In addition to his 14-season career in the NFL, he also played professional baseball as an outfielder for the New York Yankees, the Atlanta Braves, the Cincinnati Reds and the San Francisco Giants.

He’s widely considered the most successful two-sport star of the modern era, and is the only person in history to hit a major league home run and score a touchdown in the NFL in the same week.

Sanders is also the only man to ever play in a Super Bowl and a World Series (in 1992, with the Braves).

Good Morning America airs weekday mornings on ABC.

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