The Big Day. The very moment you've been waiting for your whole life. The reason why you work so hard, and go all in. Some call it Draft Day, but for most it’s assurance. On April 27, college football’s top professional prospects awaited a call from an NFL front office. 253 selections were made during last weekend’s emotional festivities, but only a few truly caught my full attention.
As a lifelong Hoosier, I was ecstatic when I heard Archbishop Carroll alum, Jeremiah Attaochu, announce: Dan Feeney, Guard, Indiana. Sure, I also love Takkarist Mckinley’s story and the promise that he has fulfilled to his grandmother. I was glued to the TV when they zoomed in on him giving a moving, post-celebration interview. To see passion like that from someone who has had to overcome every situation thrown his way, made watching Draft night worth while. This included an absent father, being raised by his late grandmother, and also having to attend community college before being blessed with this opportunity. But four athletes that weren’t selected as high represent a dying breed of pro ball prospects that for too long have gone overlooked.
Their names are Tarik Cohen, Grover Stewart, Julian Ware, and Chad Williams. Haven't heard of them? Well from now on, I’ll call them the Fantastic Four. To be drafted is one thing, but to be taken from a historically black college and university (HBCU) is just fantastic.
There isn't much glitz or glamour in playing at an HBCU nowadays because their TV contracts are smaller than the big schools, and the budget sizes of these institutions can't afford the same training facilities or the fancy private planes to travel in etc. There aren't any 11 million dollar contracts for its coaches and the schools don't even receive the same number of scholarships to give to its players as the Power 5 schools, so the black athletes that are taken each year in the NFL Draft hardly ever come from HBCUs anymore. They come from predominantly white institutions (PWI) with predominantly white coaching staffs and administrations, and predominantly white fanbases and supporters.
I’ll admit, as a high school athlete you're thinking about one thing, though: which college or university gives you the best opportunity to make it. If one is blessed enough to go D1, he won’t even hesitate taking that opportunity of a lifetime. I grew up in a household where both my parents, grandparents, and even maternal great grand parents represent HBCUs. For the men, football was their sport of choice.
My late maternal grandfather was drafted in the 22nd round of the 1954 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers out of Morgan State University. He was one of the first six HBCU players to be drafted, ever. My dad played football at Norfolk State and Cheyney University, while my mom is an Alpha Chapter member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (AKA) at Howard University—all four universities are HBCUs. We went to the homecoming weekends of those schools while I was growing up to experience an atmosphere unlike anything else. History, Tradition, Culture, and Family all wrapped up into one. The celebrations are always culminated with what brings many of us in this world together so often—sport. One rich experience of a lifetime vs another.
Yes, it's hard to pass up the opportunity to play in front of the fans in Tuscaloosa or Gainesville, or the ability to play for a national championship, especially if you have first round aspirations. But this dream has been dreamt by countless other athletes before us, who chose to pick the culture rather than the current.
There are 29 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame that attended HBCUs, so don't say it can't be done. The G.O.A.T., Jerry Rice, and sacks leader turned media personality, Michael Strahan, highlight this list of professional football one percenters that were honored at this year's Super Bowl. Four years ago, as a senior desperately awaiting an opportunity to play college football, I wrestled with the notion of attending an HBCU and staying ‘home.’ Instead, I did as most do, and followed my dream of going D1 in order to play professionally. For me, it didn't pan out nearly the way I had envisioned. But for the four selected in this year's draft, who opted to stay black, in its purest form, it did.
Reconstruction is the time period directly after the end of the Civil War, and HBCUs were formed primarily during that time to give us a place of higher education. We owe it to those who came before us to consider our black colleges more heavily, even if you are trying to make it. If this opportunity all starts with a dream, then climbing to the mountaintop is going to be challenging anyway. Don’t view going to an HBCU as a downgrade or even a dream deferred.
You can still make it; ask the Fantastic Four.
**In memoriam of ‘Bad Bill’ Buford (CIAA/Morgan State Hall of Famer) 02.19.33-02.15.17**