As NBA Season Begins, Vaccination Issue Looms in New York and San Francisco

Wynton Jackson | Staff Writer

Despite having the first in-person NBA Media Day since 2019, not all teams felt the cheer and optimism the event normally brings.

This year, the usual superstar gossip was headlined by Ben Simmons’ refusal to return to the 76ers – but there was also a more severe issue: COVID-19 vaccination. 

Though there is no mandate, the league has a 95 percent vaccination rate, according to NBA.com. While the unvaccinated in most cities are still cleared to play, New York City and San Francisco passed laws stating that they cannot participate in home games. 

Two teams affected, the Golden State Warriors and the Brooklyn Nets, both had high-profile players resisting the shot. 

The NBA also said players would not be paid for games missed due to the vaccine. For unvaccinated players in Brooklyn or San Francisco, that would be 41 games without pay, plus any postseason appearances. 

Among the slew of players who announced their stance on Media Day, Golden State forward Andrew Wiggins surprised audiences. Wiggins, known for his carefree attitude, gave a no-nonsense news conference.

“I’m gonna keep that all private right now,” Wiggins told NBA media members about his vaccination status.

He proceeded to answer each question concerning the vaccine with a similar response. 

The forward’s calm demeanor may have thrown reporters off as they kept pressing him about the shot. One journalist mentioned the potential monetary consequences he would suffer, to which Wiggins responded, “It’s my problem, not yours,” in a matter-of-fact tone that quieted the room. 

Oct. 5, before the Warriors’ first preseason game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Wiggins announced that he had received the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“The only options were to get vaccinated or not play in the NBA,” Wiggins told reporters after their 121-107 victory. 

Whereas Wiggins is rarely in the news, Nets superstar Kyrie Irving is no stranger to public scrutiny. Irving shook the NBA when he arrived late and on a Zoom call to Media Day. 

Irving refused to expand on his stance against the vaccine, citing privacy as the main reason. He confirmed that he had not taken the vaccine and was not allowed into the building. However, even with questions not directly tied to his vaccination status, he remained guarded.

When ESPN’s Malika Andrews asked if he expected to play in home games, Irving said: “Again, I would like to keep all of that private. Please, just respect my privacy.” 

Irving’s defiance could have devastating consequences for the Nets’ postseason aspirations. Without Irving, they would be limited to the big two: James Harden and Kevin Durant. Although they are both top 10 players in the league, losing Irving for home games will significantly lower their chances of winning the title. 

The annual general manager survey revealed that the Nets received 72 percent of the votes for winning the NBA Finals this year, followed by the Los Angeles Lakers at 17 percent, according to NBA.com. 

The media has come to expect stances like this from Irving. He pledged his loyalty to the Boston Celtics before demanding a trade. He recently tried to convince players not to enter the NBA Bubble in the wake of the George Floyd murder, even though he wasn’t playing. 

“I expect us to have our whole team, at some point,” Durant told NBA reporters in response to questions surrounding Irving’s status. However, if he refuses the vaccine, the Nets may be forced to trade him to another team.

That move would have to be approved by Durant, as the two friends joined Brooklyn together in the summer of 2019. 

Students around the Hampton University campus have mixed feelings about the situation. First-year student Donovin Cooper, an aspiring sports agent, believes athletes should be vaccinated but not forced to take it.

“The United States is built on freedom, and when you’re forcing somebody to do something, you are forcing them against their will,” Cooper said. “And you are holding their money hostage in the process.”

Avid basketball consumer and prospective sports journalist Raymond Beasley had this to say about vaccinations.

“I don’t think they should be forced, but assuming that everybody is vaccinated, then [docking pay] is appropriate,” Beasley said. “In order to play and not jeopardize a team, player, season, or game, you have to get vaccinated, although the decision is up to them.” 

From an athlete’s perspective, Hampton soccer player Ryan Lynch supported the NBA’s decision to pressure non-vaccinated performers.

“As an athlete, I think athletes should get vaccinated,” Lynch said. “It helps to protect themselves, and they are role models to many people. NBA players carry a lot of influence, so I believe they should get the vaccine so their followers can be encouraged to get it.”

When asked whether players need to take the vaccine even though they are not at significant risk of death, Lynch argued that “it’s better to be safe than sorry, no matter how healthy you are.” 

With cities considering following New York and San Francisco’s lead, the NBA may be without some of its premier talents for the October 19 tipoff.

A Midseason Look at Hampton Football 

Chance Williams | Staff Writer

Photo Courtesy of HBCU Sports 

The Hampton University football team has seen it all through their first five games of the 2021 season. 

The Pirates have two wins against Virginia Union and Howard … and three losses against Old Dominion, Norfolk State and Kennesaw State.

A big reason for those wins is the team’s high-powered offense. As of Oct. 7, the Pirates are second in the Big South with 35.3 points per game, according to the conference website. That’s something that not only fans but also players hope will continue. 

“As an offensive unit, we’ve been averaging 35.3 points per game, and what’s good is that we can still improve on a lot of things,” HU quarterback Christofer Zellous said. “So we’re just continuing to try and get better every week, finding something we can get better at each day in practice.”

Pirates offensive lineman Zach Jean-Louis agreed.

“Our offense has been clicking. We’re putting up all these points each game. If we can keep that up, continue executing, and staying together, we’ll be in good shape.”

As of Oct. 7, the Pirates ranked fourth in the conference in passing yards per game at 248.8 and second in rushing yards per game at 217.3, according to the Big South.

An unknown aspect of this football season is how quickly the team has come together. “We’re starting to learn from each other,” Zellous said. “Coming off a short offseason and having about 10 weeks to get ready for this season, I think we’re doing a great job of playing together. It’s big-time what we’ve been able to do and create here.”

Athletes often speak about how behind-the-scenes bonds between players are vital in building and sustaining teammate chemistry that leads to wins. At Hampton, players are firm believers in that. 

“I want to see us continue to uplift each other when things are both good and bad,” HU defensive back Robinson Davis said. “Just keeping our brothers’ heads up, because not everything is going to be perfect. If we continue to do that, I feel that we’ll be all right.”

Several other players, including wide receivers Armand Vinson and Brycen Thomas, and quarterback Jayden Birchfield, echoed Davis’ comments.

The crowds are a seemingly underrated aspect of football games to those who attend contests at HU’s Armstrong Stadium. Noise created by crowds is a significant help to those playing on the defensive side of the ball, and the Pirates are aware of this. 

“During third-down situations, making some noise really throws the offense off,” Davis said. “As a collective defense, we’d appreciate more fans coming out and making noise to help us get off the field, so we can get our offense back on the field to make some more plays.” 

HU defensive back Stanley Garner reiterated that.

“When we’re on defense, we want all the fans to get loud so the opposing team doesn’t hear their cadence,” Garner said. “It’s helpful towards us defensive players as well.” 

Even with the typical ups and downs of every sports season, the Pirates remain confident, with their heads held high. 

“Team morale is great,” Davis said. “We’re family. We preach it every day. It’s about trusting your brother next to you. We’re positive going forward, and we look forward to doing big things. While enduring the highs and lows of a season, it’s important to keep a good head on your shoulders.” 

The Pirates have been doing just that while looking to build consistency as they get more games under their belts. 

“It’s really all about executing,” HU receiver Romon Copeland Jr. said. “It’s about doing what’s best for the team and holding your brothers accountable.” 

The next home game will be against North Carolina A&T on Oct. 23. The entire Hampton University family welcomes any support for the team every time they lace up their cleats.

The ManningCast: ESPN’s rebound 

Wynton Jackson | Staff Writer

ESPN on Sept. 13 stumbled on its most popular program since First Take: The Peyton and Eli Monday night NFL broadcast, ManningCast. The sports media conglomerate signed a deal with the NFL to air Monday night games on their networks, then brought in the Manning brothers to commentate about 10 of the 17 games on ESPN2. 

After their retirements, both Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks were looking to get more involved in football, with Peyton hosting Peyton’s Places and Eli starting the new show Eli’s Places this fall, both on ESPN+. 

The ManningCast has been nothing short of excellent. Instead of the traditional announcer-color commentator format, the Mannings have created a new approach to watching football. 

The two have a more relaxed feel and aren’t pressed with hyper-analyzing each play; the broadcast resembles a night at a sports bar with the Manning brothers. The two switch seamlessly from jokes, glimpses in the huddle, anecdotes from their careers and thorough breakdowns of major plays. 

Not only do Peyton and Eli run the show, but they also bring in celebrity guests to interview each quarter. Athletes such as Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, Russell Wilson and Brett Favre appeared on the telecast and made fun of Peyton’s forehead. 

The show has also brought in Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis and Hall of Fame nominee Patrick Willis. Both did a great job breaking down the defenses in the game and how they would mess with the quarterback’s head when they played. 

The mechanics of the show itself haven’t been perfect, but it only adds to its charm. The week one broadcast started with Peyton putting on a helmet that was way too small and then immediately acting like Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden. 

There have been production workers tiptoeing in the background, Eli’s mic has been cut off a few times and they cut to commercials during conversations with guests. 

What would detract from a more formal production are what make this show feel more authentic. Nobody minds awkward silence after Peyton and Eli try to talk over one another on the Zoom call because the public has been dealing with the same issues the past year and a half. 

It’s early, but there’s a sense of community fostered through this broadcast. This may be why there was a 132 percent ManningCast viewership increase from Week 1 to Week 2, according to Yahoo Sports.

The broadcast’s success comes as a much-needed relief for “The Worldwide Leader in Sports,” considering their fiasco earlier this year. 

The New York Times on July 4 published an exposé on the brewing racial issue between two of the company’s biggest talents, Maria Taylor and Rachel Nichols. 

Last year, Taylor, a Black woman, was hired to host the pregame and halftime shows during the NBA Finals. Nichols, who is white and who was moved initially to the sideline reporting job, was caught on tape complaining about the situation. 

“If you need to give her more things to do because you’re feeling pressure about your crappy longtime record on diversity… go for it, just find it somewhere else. Like, you’re not going to find it with me, and taking my thing away,” Nichols said on the tape, according to The New York Times

According to the article, ESPN knew about the tape, yet instead of punishing Nichols, they decided to keep quiet. The woman who showed Taylor the clip (and who happened to be Black) was punished, and the Black employees came to her defense. 

Nichols has since left the company, and Taylor accepted an offer from NBC Sports in August to cover the Olympics.

In the past few weeks, ESPN also had another, smaller issue with the company’s face, Stephen A. Smith, strong-arming former co-host Max Kellerman off of First Take. The show has taken a different approach, electing a rotating cast of debaters to challenge Smith. 

Again, the timing and popularity of the ManningCast could not be more perfect. Each Monday night, social media buzzes with quotes from the Mannings or their guests, ranging from silly jokes to Gronkowski admitting he never watches film and relying on Tom Brady to tell him what to do. 

There have been calls for ESPN to put the show on its main channel considering its sudden success, but for now, let’s enjoy the wackiness that is Peyton and Eli’s Monday night NFL broadcast.

A look at Hampton lacrosse and their upcoming season 

Chance Williams | Staff Writer

Nelson Cheesman | Hampton University Athletics file photo

As the 2022 men’s lacrosse season approaches, the Hampton Pirates are getting into gear. In February, the Southern Conference announced that the Hampton University lacrosse team would be joining as an associate member. 

After previously making history as the first HBCU with a Division I lacrosse program, the Pirates will again make history as the first male HBCU program to join the Southern Conference, according to Watch the Yard. 

The Southern Conference is home to schools such as the University of Richmond and High Point University. After being an independent team since its creation, joining an athletic conference is big news for the program. 

“It means that we’re stepping in the right direction,” HU lacrosse player Aris Brown said. “We’re playing really good and competitive teams, programs that have been good for a long time. As we’re a new program, it’s good to start playing at the level of those teams.”

Hampton is looking to dethrone the previous champions, the High Point Panthers, this spring. In addition to being newly inducted members of the Southern Conference, the Hampton Pirates also will be playing their first game under new head coach Chazz Woodson, a former two-time All-Ivy League selection and Major League Lacrosse player.

“I think he’s a great coach,” HU lacrosse player Steele Downing. “He keeps us humble. He tells us what we need to work on, and compares us to the top schools in the country to show us how we need to grow. He keeps it 100 with you and tells you how he sees it.”

The Pirates also recently started practicing for the upcoming 2022 season.

“Starting day one, we all started with the mile, and we’re doing breakout sessions at certain times,” HU player Demarieh Wesley said. “It is going pretty well so far, and I just can’t wait for the season.”

HU players said they are excited to be back after the pandemic prevented them from playing last year. 

“What I missed the most was the crowds,” Downing said. “When you’d score, they’d cheer for you. I missed the competition, too. It makes the game fun.”

Due to the shutdown caused by the pandemic, this will be the first time a lot of players will take the field for the Pirates. A significant aspect of every sports team is team chemistry, and the team has had no trouble building their own. 

“I think COVID did affect us,” Brown said. “However, I also think that it made us closer. Before we even got to campus, we were already talking every day, playing video games together. So I’d say we’re a close group.”

Although players bonded before coming to campus, the work didn’t stop there. 

“When we got to campus, we bonded very quickly because we already knew each other,” Downing said. “We’ve learned more about each other as we’ve gone along, and it helps us play better.”

After missing out on their chance to compete last year, players are ready for the opportunity to play again. 

“I’m excited to play our first game in the Southern Conference and hopefully compete for a championship,” Wesley said. 

Every team member is working hard, day in and day out, so fans can look forward to seeing all of their hard work pay off this season.

Hampton’s Davion Warren transfers to Memphis

Cameron Crocheron | Staff Writer

Hampton University men’s basketball shooting guard Davion Warren officially committed to the University of Memphis on April 3 after entering the transfer portal at the end of the 2020-21 season. 

“100% committed” is what Warren wrote on his Instagram page with a picture of him and Memphis men’s basketball coach Penny Hardaway.

Warren chose Memphis after drawing interest from a few other high-major Division I schools, including Texas A&M, Arkansas and North Carolina State. 

“Memphis is a school that likes big guards, and with my size and skill set, I feel like I fit in perfectly,” Warren said to 24/7 Sports. 

Warren finished the 2020-2021 season averaging 21 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3 assists while shooting better than 45 percent from the field in 25 games for the Pirates. The 6-foot-6 guard was named first-team all-conference and led the Big South in points and steals per game. 

With Warren coming in, Memphis now has some stability at the guard position as former 5-star guard Boogie Ellis and junior guard Damion Baugh have both entered the transfer portal. 

Warren also will provide Memphis with immediate offensive production after the team ranked 184th in the NCAA in offensive team efficiency last season, according to the Team Rankings’ website. 

“I love being able to go get a bucket and then go on the other end of the floor and get a steal or a stop,” Warren told 24/7 sports. 

Warren joined the Pirates in 2019, averaging just over 10 points per game throughout the season, taking a backseat role to Jermaine Marrow and Benjamin Stanley, who both averaged over 20 points per game. With Marrow graduating and Stanley leaving Hampton for Xavier in 2020, Warren saw higher offensive production with more opportunities to display his game during the 2020-21 season.

“I think it became an opportunity [to score],” Hampton University coach Buck Joyner Jr. said to HBCU Gameday about Warren’s second-year leap. “Last year we felt like we had a good player in Davion, but he had to kind of accept his role and do the things that he needed to do to help us win ball games.”

This is the second year in a row that Hampton has lost a 20-plus point per game scorer to the transfer portal and a high-major basketball program. Stanley committed to Xavier over the likes of Illinois, Dayton and Oregon.

A quick read on the top prospects in the NFL Draft

Aliyu Saadu | Staff Writer

The NFL Draft, which will take place April 29 to May 1 in Cleveland, has a lot of intriguing prospects this year. This is one of the deepest quarterback and wide receiver classes in years. Here are the top prospects:

Trevor Lawerence, QB, Clemson University 

Lawrence is a generational talent with a strong, accurate arm and respectable speed. According to USA Today, Lawrence won 34 games as the starting quarterback for Clemson, a school record. The Knoxville, Tennessee native threw for 90 touchdowns and 17 interceptions in his career, according to Sports Reference. Lawrence is projected as the top pick in this year’s draft by ESPN and is expected to go to the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

Zach Wilson, QB, BYU 

Wilson has been one of the most talked about quarterbacks in the draft. According to WalterFootball.com, he can extend plays, can make NFL throws on a consistent basis, is very accurate and has extreme competitive drive. Wilson threw for 33 touchdowns during his final season at BYU, per Sports Reference. 

Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

Could Fields be a great quarterback or a bust? Fields has shown glimpses of being a franchise quarterback, but his inconsistency reportedly has many teams around the NFL worried. Fields had an exceptional performance against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl in January,  throwing for 385 yards and six touchdowns, according to SportsReference. According to WalterFootball.com, he can be rattled by the blitz and occasionally struggles going through his progressions. 

Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State 

Lance is the biggest question mark in this draft. He only played one game in 2020 compared to other quarterback prospects who played at least eight. During his only full season at North Dakota State, he threw zero interceptions and led his team to the conference championship.  

Mac Jones, QB, Alabama 

Jones has the biggest upside in this draft. Throwing to receivers Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, Jones had a stellar pro day performance which moved him higher on ESPN’s draft board. WalterFootball.com says that he may be a game manager at the next level and does not have the biggest arm strength, yet his strong play in the SEC — the NCAA’s strongest football conference — indicates that Jones may transition to the NFL well.

Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU  

Chase is considered the best receiver this draft, but he did not play last year.  Chase’s decisions to sit out may hurt him, but he still is considered a game changer at the receiver position. In 2019, he had 1,780 yards receiving and 20 touchdowns, per WalterFootball.com. He is a matchup nightmare due to his game-breaking speed, per WalterFootball.com. He is a generational type receiver, with great upside.

DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama  

Smith burst onto the scene in 2020, winning the Heisman Trophy. Smith was the first player who was not a QB or a running back to win the Heisman since Charles Woodson in 1997.  Smith caught 117 passes for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns, per WalterFootball.com. He is a terrific route runner, and when he touches the ball, it could go for six. The only weakness for Smith is his size. At only 175 pounds, some are concerned about how he will adjust to the physicality of the NFL, per WalterFootball.com.  

Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida  

Pitts is the best tight end in the draft. He is a matchup nightmare with receiver skills and a terrific route runner with elite after-the-catch skills, per WalterFootball.com. Pitts had 54 catches, 649 yards and five TDs, despite not playing a lot late in the season, so there is still upside. He can be a spectacular receiving  tight end, but he is not the best blocker.

NHL gets deal with ESPN

Aliyu Saadu | Staff Writer

AP Photo by Nam Y. Huh

ESPN and the NHL announced a seven-year television deal March 10. The new deal will have 100 regular-season games per year on ABC, ESPN, ESPN+ and Hulu. Twenty-five games will be on ABC, ESPN and ESPN +, and Hulu will add 75 ESPN-produced exclusive games to the streaming services starting in the fall.   

The network will air an early-round playoff series and one conference final each year. It also will air four Stanley Cup Final series on ABC during the seven-year deal.  

This deal in the U.S. is huge. More people will watch the NHL more than ever. More people will talk about it on “SportsCenter” and other platforms in the U.S.  The ratings will go up. Casual fans will be more interested in the sport.  

Fans in the U.S. will see superstars such as Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Nathan MacKinnon, Auston Matthews and others on ESPN during the season. I believe the league will be covered a lot more than ever on ESPN. The network provides the NHL the possibility of increasing its exposure not just because games will be aired, but also via the strength of ESPN sports talk shows such as “First Take” and “Around the Horn.”

 NBCSN is a channel that is hard to find and, according to the Daily Mountain Eagle, is in 80.1 million homes. ESPN is in 83.1 million homes. That 3 million makes a difference in how many more people will be able to watch the NHL on ESPN as opposed to NBCSN.

This deal means so much to the sport of hockey. For the first time in a long time, hockey has an opportunity to become recognized and respected as a top four major professional sport in North America. Sports analysts such as Max Kellerman have publicly stated the NHL is not a top four major sport.  

The sports will be supported by the ESPN family of networks, ESPN+, ESPN.com and NHL.TV. These platforms will generate more fans than the league has had. More people will want to play hockey in the U.S. Social media outlets will buzz more about McDavid than they ever have since McDavid has been in the league. 

The thing about ESPN is that if your sport is not part of the rights on ESPN, they do not cover you as much. The NHL learned that for 17 years when the league was not part of ESPN’s sports. The league finally will be able to have highlights nightly on more platforms more often.  According to statista, since NBC acquired the rights in 2005-06, the Stanley Cup Final ratings have averaged less than a 4.0. The Stanley Cup Final this past year between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Dallas Stars averaged a 1.2 rating, lowest since 2007. When ABC airs the Stanley Cup Final next year, the ratings will go up.  

This was the best decision the league has made in its history. For the NHL to be on ESPN again makes the league accessible to the younger generation. The league will relish this partnership with ESPN.

NBA prospects have shining and struggling moments in March

Cameron Crocheron | Staff Writer

AP Photo Courtesy of Paul Sancya

The month of March has always been an exciting time for college basketball fans with the NCAA Tournament, but it’s also the last time for NBA scouts to evaluate the top college prospects in the country. 

March Madness is the perfect time for prospects to prove their worth as the tournament showcases some of the greatest upsets in NCAA history with 7.6 million viewers watching this year, according to the NCAA’s website. While some prospects are continuing to shine under the pressure, others have struggled unexpectedly. 

Cade Cunningham | Oklahoma State University 

As of right now, Cunningham is still the consensus No. 1 draft prospect in the country and is a finalist for the 2021 Naismith Trophy. Cunningham has been looked at as the best prospect in his class since he left Montverde Academy for Oklahoma State in which he played a vital role in putting the Cowboys back on the map in college basketball. 

Ultimately, Cunningham and Oklahoma State had an underwhelming tournament run after getting knocked out of the tournament in the second round by Oregon State University.  In the two games Cunningham played, he averaged 19.5 points and 4.5 rebounds. During those two games, Cunningham struggled to make shots, shooting just over 26 percent from the field and 31 percent from behind the 3-point line. Cunningham’s draft projection hasn’t changed, but his performance showed NBA scouts the flaws in his game. 

Cameron Thomas | Louisiana State University 

Thomas, arguably the best pure scorer in his class and a projected late first-round pick, averaged 28.5 points per game in LSU’s two tournament matchups. The 6-foot-4 freshman guard from Oak Hill Academy turned heads after scoring 30 points against No. 1 seed Michigan despite the loss in the round of 32. 

Thomas certainly helped his draft stock after proving to be an NBA-ready scorer, but he still faces criticism for being one of the worst perimeter defenders in the upcoming draft class. Thomas hasn’t declared for the 2021 NBA Draft just yet as he still remains as one of the more volatile prospects. ESPN currently ranks Thomas at 14 on its top draft prospects list.

Jalen Suggs | Gonzaga

Since the start of Gonzaga’s season, Suggs has risen on every NBA draft big board. Suggs has led his team to be the overall No. 1 team in the country as the Zags remain the favorites to win it all. However, the freshman has struggled to find his shot in the tournament thus far. The freshman combo guard has shot 33 percent from the field and 11 percent from 3 through his first two tournament games but broke out in the Elite Eight with 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists against Southern Cal. 

Evan Mobley | USC

Mobley and his brother, Isaiah, helped the USC Trojans reach the Elite Eight, including a rout of No. 3 seed Kansas 85-51 in the second round. The 7-foot big man averaged a double-double in points and rebounds through his first two tournament games and finished with 17 points and five rebounds in the Elite Eight loss to Gonzaga. Mobley is currently a projected top-5 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft after showing signs of being the modern-day NBA big man with the ability to shoot and handle around the perimeter. He still has an underdeveloped physical frame, but his ability to protect the rim certainly makes up for it as he’s averaging three blocks per game in the tournament. 

Ayo Dosunmu | Illinois

Outside of Ohio State losing to Oral Roberts, the Fighting Illini’s loss to Loyola Chicago in the second round may have been the biggest shocker. Dosunmu turned the ball over six times in Illinois’ loss and scored only nine points. Despite the loss, the junior combo guard has been one of the better two-way players in the country and has played an integral role in turning Illinois into one of the best teams in college basketball. Like Thomas, Dosunmu’s draft projection is highly volatile and could depend upon the fit, situation and team.

NFL HBCU Combine to feature two from HU

Colangelo Parker | Staff Writer

Courtesy of HU Athletics

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.

HU student-athletes reflect on cancellation of spring sports

Aliyu Saadu | Staff Writer

Hampton University student-athletes have faced a fair amount of adversity since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the cancellation of all 2021 spring sports, HU spring athletes have now forgone two consecutive seasons.

“I was on vacation to hang out with my parents and my friends. We were on Zoom, and we found out we weren’t playing. We were devastated,” junior softball standout Jenae Lyles said when she found out that Hampton was canceling 2021 spring sports. 

In October 2020, Hampton University announced the cancellation of the 2021 spring sports seasons. This decision affected track and field, sailing, softball, tennis, triathlon and lacrosse. 

Lyles was a member of the 2019-20 softball team that had their season cut short due to the coronavirus. Unfortunately, they were not able to finish their season and ended with a record of 15-4. 

Hampton University sophomore tennis player Laura Peralta learned a lot about herself since HU’s cancellation  of spring sports. 

“The thing I learned about myself is that I can do anything, but having two jobs is hard. I had to learn how to do time management,” Peralta said. 

The university has not allowed students on campus since March 2020. The school’s decision to continue virtual learning during the spring semester led to the decision to cancel the 2021 spring sports season. The only HU teams to compete this academic year have been men’s and women’s basketball. 

“[I’ve] been trying to keep up with my training,” junior track and field thrower Nicholas Edwards said. “There are people in the conference that are getting better, and I am at home.”

Hampton track and field won both the men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track and field titles in their first year in the Big South Conference in 2019. Looking to build upon their momentum, HU track and field suffered from yet another season of cancellations due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of these athletes have not played in 11 months and are eager to compete. 

“ [I’m] going hard for practice. Not taking hard workouts for granted. Not taking any meet for granted,” senior hurdler Dylan Beard said. “I just want to run my race and be the best at it.”

Even though spring sports are not playing, there is good news to share. The Hampton men’s lacrosse team is joining a conference for the first time. Hampton will be a member of the Southern Conference on July 1. The Pirates are the first men’s HBCU program to join the Southern Conference. They are expected to play in the Spring 2022 season. 

According to ESPN, the NCAA Division I Council voted to allow student-athletes to have an extra year of eligibility when seasons were canceled. The NCAA will extend the eligibility to all spring student-athletes, not just seniors. It will allow schools to expand their rosters beyond current limits of scholarships to account for future recruits and seniors who were expected to graduate. 

This may be an opportunity for spring student-athletes at Hampton to consider an extra year of eligibility. That decision will have to be made by them, but it gives these men and women an opportunity to finish what they started.