Once upon a time, going to a historically black college and university with dreams of becoming a professional football player was an unrealistic notion.
Now that dynamic has been shattered, according to NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent, Sr.
Vincent wrote an op-ed in The Fayetteville Observer to signal the expanded opportunities for players considering HBCUs for their collegiate path into the NFL.
“Here’s a message for football players at Historically Black Colleges and Universities across the country, including North Carolina,” Vincent started. “As you report to your teams this summer, know this: You should aim high.
“Train with big dreams. There’s a path to the NFL that runs straight through HBCUs — and it’s only getting wider.”
An Informed Opinion
Vincent is a five-time Pro Bowl player and received the 2002 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. Payton was an HBCU product, drafted fourth overall from Jackson State University, and is a Hall of Famer.
Vincent’s outlook is well informed as an actual NFL insider who, in his current position, “employs the highest standards to enhance and preserve football and its value to society,” according to his professional website.
With a goal of using “the game of football to positively impact people’s lives through excellence and service,” Vincent is applying clarity to the operations side of professional football’s highest level.
“In 2022, four HBCU football players were selected in the NFL Draft,” Vincent continued. “Thirty-three more signed with clubs as undrafted free agents or received invitations to rookie camps. That’s 37 HBCU players — starting with Fayetteville State’s Joshua Williams in the fourth round — with a chance to make an NFL roster.
“In 2021, there were no HBCU athletes drafted. The year before that? Just one. The results showed that we weren’t living up to our creed of ‘football is for all.'”
In the op-ed, Vincent is transparent, explaining how the NFL developed an interest in HBCUs through conversations with Hall of Famers Ronnie Lott and Willie Lanier. The two wanted to focus on how to “close the resource gap between HBCUs (some of which haven’t had a new playing surface in decades) and schools in the Power Five conferences, with their big-money media deals.”
Legends To The Rescue
The hugely popular strides made by former NFL legends-turned-HBCU coaches like Deion Sanders at Jackson State created additional “allies and powerful advocates for the HBCU pipeline.”
“Together, the NFL, HBCUs, and partners are taking initiative to level the playing field,” Vincent stressed. “There are four pillars: equity, which ensures scouting opportunities exist for HBCU athletes; awareness of the excellent football programs at HBCU schools of all sizes; exposure for the athletes themselves; and what we call the sense of athletic closure, which, put simply, instills in HBCU athletes that they can realistically pursue a career in pro football because the opportunity exists. Through this partnership, the door of opportunity has been opened.”
Vincent went further, explaining programs like the HBCU Scouting Committee, established to generate and distribute a list of the top 150 draft-eligible HBCU players. Also, the HBCU Video Exchange Program gives NFL scouts game film access to evaluate emergent players.
No-cost courses are also accessible for HBCU players to learn more about the NFL draft process and how to maximize college resources. Additionally, Vincent discussed development opportunities are now available for HBCU coaches and officials.
Along with the NFL Network showcasing the HBCU Legacy Bowl, student-athletes provided a national audience to perform in front of and compete for their slot.
Congratulations to the second class of graduates from the @FLMemorialUniv Certificate Program in Construction Trades with tuition, meals and transportation funded by the @MiamiDolphins Social Impact Committee and @Lennar Foundation #HBCU @NFL #InspireChange #FootballUnites pic.twitter.com/JfGMEkv3QT
— Jason Jenkins (@jasonljenkins) June 9, 2022
NFL Evolution Means HBCU Inclusion
“This pipeline will grow in the years to come as we continue this work,” Vincent continued. “Top student athletes are committing to HBCUs through the transfer portal; the ability for college athletes to sign name, image, and likeness deals could also open up new opportunities.
“As an HBCU football athlete, you should be encouraged. Approach each practice, each game, with the spirit of excellence so exemplified by the legacy of your institution. Meanwhile, the NFL and its partners will continue to keep the door of opportunity open as you pursue your dream.”
As the culture of the NFL continues to evolve towards diversity, student-athletes can now pursue a culturally enriching college experience and still have a shot at being a pro.