HBCU pro days have never gotten the exposure or visibility they should. Despite the list of HBCU greats that helped the NFL explode in popularity during its first 30 years in existence, over the last few decades there’s been a stigma attached to HBCU athletes. An implication that they were somehow inferior because their athletes didn’t attend Power Five schools.
But this year seems to be a changing of the guard. Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders and other prominent HBCU leaders have insisted that the NFL show more respect for the abilities of their student-athletes.
It seems the league is listening.
The Florida A&M Rattlers had their pro day, and reportedly 30 of the 32 NFL franchises sent representatives to Tallahassee, Florida. That’s a huge change from the past, as head coach Willie Simmons has caught a lot of flak in recent years for the lack of attendees at FAMU’s pro day. The 30 NFL attendees is said to be the most ever to descend on the Tallahassee campus.
The football gods were on the job as the NFL owners meetings were held in person for the first time since 2019. Top officials, team owners, general managers and head coaches descended upon Palm Beach, which is just a one-hour flight from the campus, to discuss league matters.
You’d have to also assume the close proximity between the two locations definitely encouraged the increased attendance by NFL officials, so the timing was immaculate.
Simmons spoke about the turnout.
“I’m excited about Pro Day,” said Simmons, who became the school’s 18th full-time head coach in 2017. “It’s a beautiful day with 30 of 32 NFL teams here to watch our men showcase their abilities and talents and our entire team got to see what’s possible when you work hard.
“It was really, really amazing day and I’m proud of the performances of some of our guys.”
— Florida A&M Football 🏈 (@FAMU_FB) March 28, 2022
Some teams, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, reportedly sent multiple reps down south for the festivities.
FAMU’s big turnout comes on the heels of Jackson State’s pro day last week, where Deion Sanders says 22 of the 32 NFL franchises sent representatives.
FAMU Has Bigger Turnout Than JSU At Pro Day: Tigers Defeated Rattlers During Regular Season
Coach Prime and the JSU Tigers defeated Simmons and his Rattlers 7-6 in the Orange Blossom Classic in September. At JSU’s pro day last Monday, 22 NFL franchises sent representatives.
While Sanders was excited for the turnout, he felt those other ten could’ve sent at least one rep.
“22 teams. Twenty two teams. Came to witness our kids yesterday in its entirety and I appreciate you. But there’s 32 teams in this Crayola box. Therefore, the Dolphins, the Broncos, the Bills, the Buccaneers, the Ravens, the Panthers, the Browns, the Vikings, and the Eagles … where art thou? You could’ve sent somebody, you could’ve shown up just a little bit.”
Coach Deion Sanders called out the NFL teams that didn't show up to Jackson State's Pro Day. pic.twitter.com/gD9rWYIOlT
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) March 23, 2022
Maybe Sanders speaking up and calling out those teams had a direct effect on the incredible turnout at FAMU. He says he’s in this for the betterment of all of HBCU football, and this looks like a direct result of him using his platform and being the mouthpiece that the HBCU world needed.
There was a time not too long ago when you heard nothing about an HBCU having more than 8 to 10 attendees at a pro day. To be seen a lot of times those players would attend a pro day at a nearby Power Five program.
Most Scouts Showed Up To See FAMU Stud DB Markquese Bell
Bell, who was one of the four HBCU invitees to Indianapolis for the NFL Combine, found his niche at FAMU after transferring from UMD following his freshman season in 2017. The ballhawking safety measured out at 6 feet 2 and 212 pounds while running a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash.
Bell has elite sideline-to-sideline ability and is as sure a tackler as you’ll find in the draft. He also possesses great twitch, speed and tenacity. He’s a classic middle-of-the-field enforcer who brings the wood on every snap.
— The Bluebloods (@The__Bluebloods) March 6, 2022
Bell was ecstatic about having the opportunity to be seen twice, at the NFL Combine and pro day.
“It feels amazing. We’re bringing a change to HBCUs. They aren’t overlooking us anymore. To be a part of this is amazing.”
Exposure and visibility seem to be picking up around HBCU football. Separatism be damned. Thanks in large part to Coach Prime.