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It’s Time For High School Football Recruits To Go The HBCU Route

ESPN’s The Undefeated featured a thought-provoking article on how HBCUs can survive in the 21st century. Historical Black Colleges and Universities have had many issues with finances, accreditation, and athletics — notably football.

Decades ago, countless prominent football players such as Michael Strahan, Walter Payton, Jerry Rice, Deacon Jones, Steve McNair and Shannon Sharpe honed their skills at HBCUs.

In 2016, there were 32 players in the NFL that played at HBCUs, which is a drastic drop compared to 1994 where 86 HBCU players were on active rosters.  During the times when HBCUs were littered with NFL talent, the schools were viewed as the top resort. Now, HBCUs are akin to a “Last Chance U.”

Some notable recruits such as Howard’s Caylin Newton and Alabama A&M’s Aqueel Glass are trying to change the culture, but it is a work in progress.

National Signing Day just passed and a plethora of college football players signed their letters of intent. From Miami to Texas A&M to Saginaw Valley State, many student-athletes are fulfilling a dream of being a college football player.

When looking at the ESPN 300 for the 2019 Class, 299 of them chose a Power 5 school. One recruit out of the 300, signed to Boise State. Now, we know the lay of the land when it comes to college football. Coaches often double as car salesmen and they do what they have to do to get the best talent on campus or to keep talent away from their rivals.

A high percentage of those players will likely enter the transfer portal after realizing that the school they selected isn’t a good fit for them.

Recently, former Michigan State star Donnie Corley, a former four-star recruit, signed a letter of intent with Texas Southern. Meanwhile, it’s not to say that Corley should have signed with Texas Southern coming out of Detroit King High School, but what if he took that chance starting off his career at an HBCU rather than heading to East Lansing?

“Kids come out of the high school and feel that their only recourse is to attend a Power 5 school,” said TSFJ alum and NCCU legend Joe Simmons. “They go to places that they are capable of playing and for one out of four it works out as planned. If that kid would have chosen an HBCU, they would have more than likely received instant gratification. At an HBCU, that kid is going to get a chance to develop, but do it playing and not just being a scrimmage dummy.

“If more 3-star kids start choosing HBCUs, they could change the perception of these schools. You’re starting to see it as NCCU, Prarie View, and Southern are starting to steal kids from Power 5 schools.”

If you have a kid from the inner-city of Chicago or the suburb of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, is it better to go to Buffalo and be a student-athlete in the MAC? Or should he go to Grambling State where you will be coached up regardless of stature and get a prestigious education? Not taking anything away from schools like Buffalo, but the overall experience is likely better than being in the city where Marshawn Lynch had to settle for Applebee’s as his source of entertainment.

From an educational perspective, you will have more one-on-one time with professors and tutors. While it may seem outlandish to say this, you can study a major of your choice. Some notable PWI’s only allow their athletes to focus on degrees with little use in the real world, and do little to actually educate the students. It’s a way to make them look good on paper, even if the tutors are using WritingCheap to help get their work done. For example, if you are playing college football and general studies is your major, how does that set you up for life after football — even if you are an Academic All-American?

Not to say that all universities are like this, but it happens. At an HBCU, most schools will allow you to focus on the degree of your choice. Whether it’s journalism or mechanical engineering, the choice is yours.

Athletically and socially, at HBCUs the chances of playing right away and you becoming a well-rounded person are essential. Scoring touchdowns is great, but with the stats against collegiate athletes going pro, it’s imperative to make connections for life after football. Joining fraternities and social groups will give you the connections to succeed after your playing days are over.

In the mentioned article from The Undefeated, NBA great and Winston Salem alum Earl Monroe stated:

“Students go to HBCUs because of the familiarity of it all, like [North Carolina] A&T, second and third generations go there. They’re going to these schools because it feels like family. When you are comfortable, the rich, nurturing experiences lift you up. You get caring professors, people who look out for you. The supportive atmosphere found at HBCUs allows students to excel without the racial pressures that exist outside the classroom. “You develop lifelong friendships and a sense of belonging. That’s what I took away from Winston-Salem State.”

I often tell kids that going to college to play football is bigger than football. It’s important to use football as a vehicle to get you where you want to be in life. Simply put, don’t let the game use you. Leave with a degree and the connections to land jobs and internships. In my opinion, HBCUs do better with that due to the percentages of their athletes not going pro.

That method is hard to sell, given that most schools recruit in a way to sell a gimmick – the best shoes, top-flight gear, and unrealistic expectations from an athletic and academic perspective.

HBCUs do not have the state-of-the-art facilities and the frills that big schools have. There aren’t a litany of Jordan and LeBron cleats laying out for you to try on, but they can sell a real-life experience rather than a false one.

In an article from the Red and Black, Savannah State University head football coach Earnest Wilson III is against choosing a school based on facilities and brand endorsements.

“A young man has to understand that that is not where he is going to sleep, that is not where he is going to eat, that is not where he will be living one day,” Wilson said. “That’s why I say we have to start selling our kids education. A school may be sponsored by Nike, but you have to think, ‘OK you are not going to be wearing those same Nike shoes or cleats four or five years down the road. You better be ready to wear business shoes.’”

There is still a lot of work to do for HBCUs, both the academic institutions and football programs.

The idea of them competing with the blue bloods of college football is still far-fetched, but if high school recruits begin taking their talents to HBCUs, they can carve a name for themselves in the same vein as some of sports’ greatest legends of yesteryear.

3 Replies to “It’s Time For High School Football Recruits To Go The HBCU Route”

  1. This is an excellent article with lots of critical information for students and parents to know!! Thank you for publishing it!!

  2. Thank you for posting this article, and focusing attention on the need for high school students to attend and graduate from HBCUs. I can remember attending Fort Valley State University (an HBCU), and while I may not have been quite as prepared academically when I first arrived on campus, like many students, I had dedicated instructors who took me under their wings and pushed me to become the best I could become.

    I recall my freshman year composition teacher who refused to let me accept mediocrity in my writing skills, and marked up my papers with red ink, as if I didn’t know how to write a composition. But, as I think back, I really wasn’t that good at that time. She did that each class – demanding nothing but the best from me until my composition skills reached a high level of superiroity. So much so that I was asked by my instructor to volunteer as a compostion tutor – helping other students sharpen their skills as well.

    The State of Georgia requires all students from public colleges and universities to pass a reading and writing (composition) exam that they called the “Exit Exam.” Here was the real test of how well students were prepared. The writing (composition) from each student was completed, but mailed to other university teachers/professors in the state to grade their papers. I cannot tell you how much greater confidence this gave me – knowing that I passed it with flying colors. By the way, it was not by accident that our papers from students attending Georgia’s HBCUs were graded by professors at other universities back then.

    Although non-HBCUs elsewhere do similar things to help students, because I have attended other non-HBCUs on the graduate and undergraduate levels, particularly those that are over 90% white, I didn’t observe that happening at the level of compassion, where the students and the instructors were in a special “You will not fail” relationship. Yes, unfortunately, some did fail, but it wasn’t due to the instructors not giving their all to help them if they wanted to succeed.

    Many years later when my wife and I had our two sons, we knew what they would face later in their lives relative to writing compositions, and I took it upon myself to teach, tutor, and mentor them starting when they were 7 and 8 years old (making it fun by asking them to write about things such as our summer vacation, or sports, etc.) all the way through high school. Since Georgia has a high school exit exam, students have to pass this exam in order to graduate high school – regardless of their GPA. At least it was that way back then. Well, both my sons had no trouble at all with their exit exams on the high school nor the college level writing exams. This was something that my college English/Composition teacher instilled in me, and I passed it along to them.

    I say all of this because I know I would not have felt like I was at home enough during my early college years to trust and depend on the sincerity of all of my instructors as I did at this HBCU. By the way, some of my most memorable instructors were white professors who were passionately commited and dedicated to each student as well, and they stretched me farther than I thought I could be stretched.

    Since graduating Fort Valley State University, I have been blessed to have worked with major Fortune 500 Companies (actually Fortune 100 Companies), and as I have worked alongside some of the sharpest business minds in the industry, it has always given mea since of joy and resolve to know that when I have been in challenging environments with some who have graduted from some of the most prestigious universities in the country, I was able to out perform manyof them in those competitive environments. I am convinced that much of it had to do with my nurturing social and academics experiences at Fort Valley State University.
    Thanks for allowing me to express my thoughts in more detail.

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