How HBCU players can get more opportunities in future

“I’ve seen a multitude of kids we played against who were more than qualified to be drafted. I pray this will NEVER happen again.”

Deion Sanders, Instagram on May 3 after no players were selected from HBCU programs in the NFL draft.

Boots on the floor.

To use John Wooten’s phrase, this is the gist of the solution to what some insist that players from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) lack NFL opportunities. Formerly a longtime NFL scout and HR manager, Wooten worked with Dallas Cowboys HR manager Will McClay on a proposal to create a scouting service for HBCU programs that would benefit all 32 NFL teams.

The HBCU score, as Wooten calls the proposed consortium presented to the league in support, would be structured similarly to the BLESTO and National Scouting combinations that some teams subscribe to to complement their HR departments. The service would employ an army of independent scouts tasked with assessing and evaluating the prospects of the HBCU.

“This is the same thing we used to do when we went to these schools,” Wooten told USA TODAY Sports, referring to his days as a cowboy scout in the 1970s and 1980s as the few black scouts for the NFL Teams during this time the HBCU had recruited schools as part of their regular scouting circle – a fundamental contributing factor to the 30 Pro Football Hall of Famers, which comes from HBCU programs. “You must have boots on the ground.”

McClay, the Cowboys ‘vice president of player staff, said he was motivated to find solutions after seeing Sanders’ comments and speaking from others about the apparent lack of opportunity for HBCU prospects. He realizes that it is not feasible for teams to devote extensive resources to exploring HBCU schools when the lion’s share of the designs come from power conferences. But he can’t ignore the prospect of HBCUs either, which is why he believes a scouting service would pay huge dividends to everyone involved.

“We have to go where the fish are,” McClay told USA TODAY Sports, alluding to his team’s scouting efforts. “They only have so many resources and HBCUs haven’t produced as many NFL players as they have in the past.”

In 2019, Wooten retired from his position as chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which monitors and promotes opportunities for minority trainers and leaders in the front office. Now he is relying on his roots to find another type of progressive measure. He knows that most of this particular challenge is convincing the NFL to invest, especially after the league’s revenue hit an estimated 25% due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I can understand that people don’t want to spend money, but if you want to help the HBCUs become the entity it was in the 70s and 80s,” said Wooten, “you have to help young players know that if.” They choose to go to a Grambling or Morgan state to be tracked down just like they did in Alabama, Southern California or Oregon. ”

In recent years, much of the scouting of HBCU schools in the form of evaluating match material has been carried out as part of the league’s HBCU video exchange program operated by DV Sports, which has been tasked with distributing the videos collected from conferences. In 2020, the league also created an HBCU Scouting Committee that compiles a list of the 150 best HBCU candidates with drafting authority, which it distributes to teams and organizers of college all-star game combinations.

Despite these efforts, here’s a scorecard: In the last three-day draft of the NFL, 259 players were selected None of the HBCU programs were selected.

A COVID-19 factor? Maybe to a certain extent. Most of the conferences with HBCU schools – the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) at the FCS level and the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) of Division II, and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) – are in their 2020 season due to the pandemic canceled during FCS The Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) has postponed its campaign to spring this year. Interested parties across the university landscape who ran away in 2020 and were not blue-chip talents were undoubtedly critically disadvantaged in the design of the assessment process.

On the other hand, only one player was drafted by an HBCU in 2020 … in the seventh round.

That’s two years, an HBCU conscript.

“It should be worrying for all of us when you want the best for the game,” Troy Vincent, executive vice president of football operations for the NFL, told USA TODAY Sports.

Several players from HBCU schools signed up as free agents this month. The Broncos signed former North Carolina A&T cornerback Mac McCain III, an under 4.4 FCS All-America who played on consecutive Black College championship teams. The Falcons added Kion Smith, a 6-foot-6, 315-pound offensive device from the state of Fayetteville, North Carolina. McCain and Smith were among those who caught their eye during an HBCU Combine event (not affiliated with the NFL) at the University of Alabama-Birmingham in April.

But why weren’t they drafted? Those interested in small schools were drawn from Concordia-St. Paul, Charleston, Appalachian State, and Coastal Carolina. However, Alabama A&M, Southern and South Carolina State were not represented.

Hence Sanders, the cornerback of the Hall of Fame, the became a Jackson State coach last fallpublicly expressed dismay at the HBCU closure.

“Every week we play a game against someone and it’s ‘Damn the kid can play!’ “Sanders told USA TODAY Sports in a recent interview.” A cornerback in Alabama state. A security in the Mississippi Valley. The little kid came down the hill and brought it. The kid can play on Sundays. But the only reason he can’t was discovered is that no light falls on him. “

Sanders, one of the four former NFL players who now run the HBCU soccer programs, was referring to the light of exposure. In this day and age, with so much technology going on, it can be difficult to believe that talented players from any school can fly under the radar. However, some insist that the HBCU prospects still make a short shrift of the scouting process. Even in normal non-pandemic years, few HBCU prospects are invited to the NFL’s Scouting Combine in Indianapolis for college all-star games where they can be judged as they play against players from traditional soccer power Programs.

“That definitely needs to change,” Howard coach Larry Scott recently told Atlanta Journal-Constitution D. Orlando Ledbetter. “I just think that the continued awareness and cameras that follow and watch, level the playing field and give HBCU players the same opportunity, must continue, it must increase. You (heavily scout) on other FCS programs. Why not also at HBCU level? I think that has to change systematically and it has to change now. “

Wooten agrees. He doesn’t think the video exchange program and prospect list goes far enough to ensure that the best HBCU prospects are thoroughly evaluated. He also wonders if, given the volume of video NFL teams get from each school – starting with the Power 5 football factories – many teams are using the manpower to review and evaluate footage of HBCU games.

“How do you even know who to look at when you don’t have reports?” Wooten said.

However, with Boy Scouts assigned to the various HBCU schools, Wooten believes that in addition to assessing prospects in multiple games and exercises, it also builds relationships with coaches and others in the school that improve the level of information in individual player reports could.

“When the coaches see us coming, they know we’re there to help,” said Wooten.

It is conceivable that after the HBCU service has rated, rated and rated prospects, the NFL teams’ HR departments could access the reports and decide whether to use their own scouts to get a deeper look at a particular prospect To get customers.

While Vincent alludes to other factors that could affect HBCU’s prospects in its professional gaming endeavors, such as: B. Inferior facilities at many schools, he also wonders if there is a pattern where players rated as four- or five-star recruits drop out of high school apparently with various scouting services Map after moving from Power 5 schools to HBCUs. And he doesn’t reject the premise that more scouting can create more opportunities.

“We need to do better assessments, raise awareness, and give Scouts and clubs access to HBCU programs,” said Vincent.

David Turner, who has searched for five NFL teams for over 19 years and not only served in human resource roles in other professional leagues, believes an HBCU scouting service would fill a void that even NFL teams’ efforts with the best intentions hindered. Turner was also one of the organizers of the HBCU Combine, which aimed to raise the profile of overlooked players.

“Given that most HBCUs are in the Southeast, most regional Boy Scouts (for NFL teams) are focused on the SEC,” said Turner, who knew the SEC would do the for 15 consecutive years created most of the NFL draft picks per conference. including a record of 65 selections this year. “That limits their ability to get hold of HBCUs. So many back-end prospects, people who could be selected by non-priority agents in the fifth round, are not particularly well known. “

Especially when there are no boots on the ground.

Follow Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.


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