Colangelo Parker | Staff Writer
All across the sports world, leagues have increased their efforts to highlight the importance of historically Black colleges and universities.
Now the NFL is shining a spotlight on HBCUs.
The inaugural NFL HBCU Combine will be hosted by UAB—the University of Alabama at Birmingham—on April 9 and 10. Draft hopefuls, including Hampton University quarterback Deondre Francois and HU receiver Cortez Lewis, will be able to showcase their skills ahead of the April 29-May 1 NFL Draft.
“I love what the NFL is doing—kudos to them,” said Hampton University football coach Robert Prunty, who played football at Alabama A&M and graduated from that HBCU in 1988. “I think the combine is great! I think it is long overdue. HBCUs continue to put out great players, so it is a great idea by the NFL to have the HBCU combine. [There are] so many good players at HBCUs that get overlooked. I think those young men deserve the opportunity to showcase their talent.”
Francois and Lewis were among 42 players representing 27 HBCUs who were invited and are on track to participate April 9.
“I’m extremely proud of them both,” Prunty said. “The amount of work those guys have put in to get where they are at is tremendous.”
The HBCU Combine was planned for 2020 but was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Many pro days last year were canceled as well, leaving draft prospects with limited exposure to NFL scouts.
“We are fully committed to exploring ways to enhance player evaluation for professional football teams and giving every deserving player the opportunity to have his talent assessed by pro scouts,” said Phillip Blackwell, executive director of the HBCU Combine, in an interview with hbcugameday.com.
In the 2020 NFL Draft, there was only one player selected from an HBCU. Tennessee State University offensive lineman Lachavious Simmons was picked No. 227 overall in the seventh round by the Chicago Bears.
The combine event will feature physical drills and tests that will be administered and performed to the NFL Regional Combine regulations. The two-day event also will feature an HBCU Combine Recognition Dinner on April 9. The dinner, featuring guest speaker and HBCU graduate Darryl Orlando Ledbetter, will highlight the legacy of HBCU football.
Stephen A. Smith, host of ESPN’s “First Take” and a Winston-Salem State alumnus, will attend the recognition dinner and provide each player with a travel assistance grant to help reduce traveling costs to the combine.