HBCU Legacy Bowl returns with aim to promote overlooked prospects
February 19, 2022 was the date of the first HBCU Legacy Bowl. History was made.
However, the HBCU Legacy Bowl was born on May 1, 2021, the third and final day of the 2021 National Football League Draft. When all the names were called, not one player from a Historically Black College or University heard his phone ring.
For two HBCU graduates who had their names called on draft day after their sterling college careers ended – James “Shack” Harris and Doug Williams – the silence was alarming. Thus, the former Grambling State quarterbacks decided to do something about it.
Harris and Williams, founders of the Black College Football Hall of Fame, put their birthing skills to work again, culminating with last year’s HBCU Legacy Bowl and the HBCU Scouting Combine.
They are back for year two. This year’s contest is set for Saturday, February 25, at Yulman Stadium on the campus of Tulane University. Kickoff is 3 p.m.
Some will ask, “What’s the point? Why have such a game?” After all, in this day of social media, no one with NFL talent goes unnoticed. If you are good, they’ll find you, right? Williams, a former first-round draft pick in 1978 by the Tampa Bay Bucs, disagrees.
“But how many goods are they looking for? They are not coming to your campus,” said the 17th overall selection in 1978. “You won’t have 32 sets of eyes on you like you will in this game. I think this game is more important than anything else for guys at HBCU’s because with this game and the combine you give a guy a chance and an opportunity because of this week.”
The 2022 NFL Draft was not a shutout for HBCUs as four players got the call:
Defensive back Joshua Williams of Fayetteville State went to Kansas City in the 4th round. He grabbed an interception in the AFC title game vs. Cincinnati on the way to becoming a Super Bowl Champion.
Cobie Durant, a defensive back out of South Carolina State, went to the Rams with the 142nd selection in the 4th round and played in 13 games with three interceptions.
Jackson State linebacker James Houston had 8.0 sacks in only seven games with the Lions, who drafted him in the sixth round.
Offensive lineman Ja’Tyre Carter of Southern went to the Chicago Bears with pick 226 in the seventh round and saw action in two games last season.
James Harris, an 8th round pick by the Buffalo Bills in 1969 and the first black quarterback to start a season, said the fact that there were 31 players from HBCUs on NFL rosters in 2022 should tell you something.
“That just showed that we have enough talent that deserves an opportunity to play in the National Football League. To come here now and see 32 teams taking a final look at these players makes you feel good.”
The game features 100 players divided into two teams, each squad bearing the name of a coaching legend. Team Robinson (Eddie of Grambling) includes players from the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC). Team Gaither (Jake of Florida A&M) has players from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (CIAA).
The HBCU Legacy Bowl is more than a football game. For example, 1,500 students registered for a two-day career-fair at the Morial Convention Center.
“These students will be able to get an opportunity to talk to these businesses and be brought in for job opportunities and internships and we are excited about that. The players—who may not make it to the NFL—they’ll be able to share in this experience as well,” Harris explained.
Some of the talent on display is home-grown. Former New Orleans prep stars like quarterback Skylar Perry of Arkansas-Pine Bluff by way of Edna Karr High School and defensive back Corione Harris of Southern, a product of Landry-Walker, will be in that number.
Southern head coach Eric Dooley is one of the head coaches on Team Robinson. Jaguars linebacker Jordan Lewis, 2020 winner of the Buck Buchanan Award as the nation’s most outstanding defensive player in the FCS, will put his talents on display.
James Harris and Doug Williams are two football pioneers who saw what they felt was a problem of omission and decided to do something about it. The inaugural Legacy Bowl was a success and they expect this year’s edition will also have a positive impact.
“About 40 guys got a chance to get into a camp, whether they were drafted, signed as free agents or got an opportunity for the tryout camp. That’s way more than we had five years before that,” said Williams. “Just to have that many go into an NFL camp is an improvement. Anytime you get in there that’s an opportunity and it’s up to those guys to show that they have the ability to make it.”
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