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Black College Football Finds Its Way

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Alabama State tames Grambling

By Collin Smiley, BVN Staff –

Montgomery, Al – After living in California for years, it can become difficult to remember the feel, flavor, and excitement generated down south during the college football season. The intra-state rivalries, the battling bands, the trash talk and the local pride garnered from a winning football team.

Although many Californians have a direct lineage to the south, years of living in the west can erode that bound. Here, we are overexposed to the new Pac-12, Big East and ACC because of their athletic prowess with an assist from ESPN’s nonstop highlight reels.

But many years ago before the Black athletes were allowed to showcase their skill at the major institutions the Black athletes had to attend HBCU’s (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). HBCU’s are a rare site west of the Rocky Mountains. So, Californians tend to lose out on the excitement, pageantry and originality innate to these institutions.

In the years after segregation began to drain away the top Black athletes, its ultimate affect on Black college sports was a concern shared by many, particularly in the football community.

Would historically Black colleges and universities be able to field quality teams?

I am here to tell you that, like its people the HBCU’s have figured it out, retooled, rebranded and moved on with the times. Black college football classics populate the eastern half of the country like post season major college bowl games dominate the month of December.

I can confirm the health of HBCU football after attending the 35th meeting between the Alabama State Hornets and the legendary Grambling Tigers at the Crampton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama.

On a cool September evening in Alabama, absolutely perfect for football, alumni great and former Super Bowl MVP, Doug Williams led his G-Men onto the field against ASU head coach Reggie Barlow, also a Super Bowl winning alumni and his Hornet team. Barlow starred at ASU before heading to the NFL and winning his championship ring as a member of the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers team.

Williams, was one of legendary coach Eddie Robinson’s greatest players, a member of the Black College Hall of Fame, Super Bowl MVP and his name is currently being floated for an NFL Hall of Fame ballot spot. Adding more entertainment value to this game, Grambling’s starting quarterback D.J. Williams is Doug’s son.

There are roughly 65 HBCU classic games scheduled during the 2011-12 season. Many of them are showcase games in cities with no HBCU school presence but have adopted the games as traditional celebrations coupled with a scheduled community event.

By branding their games as classics and moving them around it has made these events more attractive to sponsors and increased their marketing options. Classic games like the Circle City Classic, Music City Classic, Chicago Football Classic and College Fair, Southern Heritage Classic, State Fair Classic and Morehouse-Tuskegee Classic have achieved national name recognition and like the very famous Bayou Classic in New Orleans have built an annual following in the thousands.

The major HBCU conferences, SWAC, MEAC ,SAIC and CINA have combined to offer a full schedule of televised games with broadcast partners ESPN, CSS, OVC Sports TV, Sport South, Versus and SWAC conference holding SWAC TV. Several of these same conferences have also combined to offer a comprehensive schedule of available games via the internet.

No longer the choice of top recruits and understandably so, the HBCU’s have continued to provide a great on field product with the talent available to them. Currently there are 37 active players in the National Football League from Historically Black Colleges And Universities.

Although there are no current players the likes of Walter Payton, Doug Williams, Steve McNair or the many greats of previous generations in the league today, there are many starters and key contributors.

After its weakest draft ever in 2010 when only two players were signed by the NFL, the 2011 draft resulted in a total of four players being taken by the league. Kendrick Ellis a DT from Hampton was taken by the Jets, Johnny Culbreath, OL from South Carolina State went to the Detroit Lions, Frank Kearse, a DT from Alabama A&M went to the Miami Dolphins and Curtis Holcomb, a DB from Florida A&M was taken by the San Francisco 49ers.

And most important, HBCU’s have reinvented themselves without the ability to recruit top best athletes. They have used diversity and all its benefits to attract student athletes from many ethnic backgrounds to their institutions all in pursuit of the common goal of athletics and educational enrichment. That formula can never be undermined.

G. Montgomery contributed to this article: Colin Smiley and G. Montgomery can be reached at Sports@blackvoicenews.com

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