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NFL Draft

HBCU Legacy Bowl Much More Than Just Another Game

  • The Draft Network
  • March 19, 2021
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Darius Leonard, Javon Hargrave, Tarik Cohen, and Tytus Howard are only a handful of HBCU players who have gone on to eventually become NFL draft picks. With every team searching each school around the country, HBCUs were once considered the hotbeds of the nation. The list of legends that have been produced from those ranks speaks for itself. Jerry Rice, Walter Payton, and Doug Williams are some of the headliner names included on that illustrious list. Ten percent (33) of all players (326 total) in the NFL Hall of Fame attended an HBCU, according to an NFL operations report. 

Last year, the first annual HBCU Combine was set to kick off in Miami, but that was unfortunately canceled due to the ongoing risk of the pandemic. The league took strides in hopes of creating reclamation projects with pipelines that produced Hall of Fame-level talent. Former Tennessee State offensive lineman Lachavious Simmons, a then redshirt senior from Selma, Alabama, was selected in the seventh round by the Chicago Bears. He would become the only HBCU prospect selected in the 2020 draft. At the start of last season, 26 players total (including participants on the active roster and the practice squad combined) were on NFL rosters. A number that was previously at 32 the season prior, it’s a total that continues to decline.

With the number possibly suffering another decline as a result of the lack of a fall season and many HBCUs opting out of the spring season due to the risk of COVID-19, there was something that needed to be done in order to generate exposure for HBCU athletes on a national stage to afford them opportunities that the schools themselves couldn’t afford them.

On Thursday morning, the NFL and Black College Hall of Fame announced the establishment of the HBCU Legacy Bowl, a postseason all-star contest that will consist of approximately 100 of the top talent in the country. On an invitation-only basis, the game will be made up of players solely from HBCUs. The inaugural game is set to be played the day after Super Bowl LVI inside of Yulman Stadium on the campus of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. 

In the middle of the whirlwind of free agency news, pro days swiftly passing, and fans giving their reactions to both, a welcoming announcement from the NFL about the game brought a wide smile to my face.

An HBCU alum myself, as I attended North Carolina Central University, the HBCU experience is something that can’t be described, but when you attend a game, it only takes two seconds to feel it. The back and forth battles of the marching bands playing as loud as humanly possible and the endless selections of food that will have your taste buds and senses of smell in hyperdrive even more than the local fair. That’s not even counting the interesting battle on the field between the two teams playing. Now, let’s combine all of those institutions into one while giving the highest honor to 100 NFL hopefuls that are fighting for a shot to become the next Steve McNair or Michael Strahan. 

There are so many undiscovered gems at HBCUs, but many diamonds remain covered in the rough because of the lack of exposure and opportunity. It doesn’t always have to be a quarterback, running back, defensive lineman, or cornerback, it can even be a specialist that is NFL-worthy. Current Cleveland Browns punter Jamie Gillan is a prime example. A graduate of Arkansas Pine-Bluff and nicknamed “The Scottish Hammer,” Gillan went undrafted in 2019 but made a name for himself after a booming 74-yard punt during a preseason game.

Winning the training camp battle at the position is a snapshot of the talent that’s located at these institutions, but the lack of resources often leads to the lack of exposure, which has been evident in the dwindling numbers of HBCU talent represented in the NFL. The HBCU Legacy Bowl is much more than just another all-star contest. It’s a possible opportunity for players on that level to chase their ultimate goal on the biggest stage that many grew up watching. 

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