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How often do HBCU football players make it to the NFL?

Morgan’s Hughes Memorial Stadium
Morgan’s Hughes Memorial Stadium

Yorel Hogan, Contributing Writer for The MSU Spokesman

The NFL draft is rapidly approaching. Set for April 25, this is the time where college prospects who have hopes to make it into the professional football world have a chance to show their talents and pursue their dreams. Morgan State University and many other Division-1 and Division-2 schools across the country have many prospects who are shoe-ins for the professional leagues.

But making it into the pros is not a simple task. According to the NFL, out of all National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) colleges, only 1.6% of football players will ever make it to the league. It’s only harder for those players at historically black colleges (HBCUs) because of the lack of attention they garner compared to other universities.

But things may be different this year. On Feb. 26, CBS Sports announced its top 10 HBCU players to look out for in the draft. Those names included Morgan’s own Jordan Toles and Noah Washington, both of whom remain on the university’s roster for the upcoming season.

Other picks included Virginia State University cornerback Willie Drew, Alabama State University defensive back Mikey Victor, Benedict College cornerback Joshua Heyward and Norfolk State University offensive lineman Evan Gregory.

Bowie State University safety Raymond Boone explained in an interview with HBCU Gameday the recent difficulties of HBCU players making it into the NFL – and his feelings about only one HBCU football player being drafted in 2023.

‘’They do frown upon HBCUs sometimes because of competition level. Granted we [HBCUs] don’t get to play [big university teams like] Alabama every week. I didn’t feel like that one draft pick was enough to get us over the hump,’’ he said.

However, there may be hope that things will get better for the student athletes. Chibuikem Ogauyo, defensive lineman for Morgan, believes that the work ethic shown by HBCU athletes has given them exposure to professional league scouts and recruiters.

‘’Deion Sanders [former football head coach of the Jackson State University Tigers] definitely helped propel and bring us [HBCU players, teams, culture] nationwide.You’re definitely going to see us now. We still have challenges we are facing but I definitely feel like we’re at the highest level of recognition we’ve ever been ever since HBCUs were created–especially in HBCU sports,” he said.

There are currently only 20 active players in the NFL who are HBCU alums. Joshua Miles, an offensive tackle who played for Morgan from 2014-2018, now plays for the New York Giants and was drafted in 2019. Alfonzo Graham, a former Morgan football player from 2020-2022, now plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers and was assigned to the practice squad in 2023.

San Francisco 49ers’ offensive lineman Javon Hargrove formerly played for the South Carolina State Bulldogs and learned a lot from his time there, including the work that was needed to make it to the pros.

‘’They taught me what hard work was. When I first got to college, I had no idea how hard it was to be a football player in general. Just [being] there, some of the lessons they taught me of how I go about my every day and how much work I have to put in to be who I want to be,’’ he said in an interview with Rolling Out magazine.

The lessons he learned from South Carolina State helped him appear in Super Bowl LVII (57) and LVIII (58) in back to back years in 2022 and 2023.

The Allstate HBCU Legacy Bowl is a postseason exhibition football game that displays draft-eligible collegiate players from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. This game gives these players a pedestal and an opportunity to impress NFL scouts and gives overlooked players exposure.

Morgan State wide receiver Treyveon Pratt will play in the Legacy Bowl in 2024 and is looking forward to showing his work. ‘’Sometimes I feel like I haven’t really been able to be in the spotlight like everybody else, so this is a great opportunity for me to really show everybody that I’m really a great receiver,” he said. “To be able to put on for my family, where I’m from, my team, my coaches, it’s to show everybody that I’m here and I’m ready to put in work.”

Damon Wilson, head football coach of Morgan State University, believes the exposure that the Legacy Bowl gives HBCU players is essential to the players’ overall success. He’s hopeful for the future of his players.

“The media covering student athletes is very important and I think all those things together will provide more opportunities for our student athletes,” he said. ‘’We have some guys in the National Football League right now from HBCUs who are doing a great job and are opening up doors for the next generation of guys.”