Before I wanted to become an NFL player, I wanted to be a drum major in the “Marching 100,” Florida A&M University’s marching band. FAMU is the historically black college across the train tracks from my alma mater, Florida State.
The neighborhood I grew up in, and where I spent most of my formative years, was not far from what we call “The Hill.” My mother attended FAMU and that’s where she met my father. My godfather worked in athletics there and my first experience with collegiate sports came through memories at Bragg Memorial Stadium or Jake Gaither Arena where I sold programs and acted as a water boy for the basketball teams.
That’s the reason I have great affinity for “black” college football. I understand the history and all the traditions that go with it.
I wanted FAMU to offer me a football scholarship and even went on a visit to Morehouse College in Atlanta because that’s where my family doctor Esias Lee went. A lot of the men I looked up to attended HBCUs.
In fact, my first time going to a “major” division one football game wasn’t until I was a sophomore in high school; I was shocked at how much different it was.
Unfortunately, the HBCU brand of football, in recent history, has been heavily scrutinized from facilities and recruiting to academics. Some folks even question why HBCU football still exists. Oftentimes, these comments are made without understanding the history of the programs and how many Pro Football Hall of Fame members, hell, NFL players in general, have come out of the HBCUs.
That’s why I was so proud of the historic showing this past weekend by almost every HBCU program. Whether it be FAMU and Bethune-Cookman playing two schools from Power Five conferences which possess everything in terms of facilities (Arkansas and Miami), or Tennessee State and Howard both beating mid-major programs, they all displayed the grit and tenacity that built the universities.
Compared to their opposition, they were all under-funded, out-manned and traveled under less than ideal circumstances. FAMU went by bus to Fayetteville, AR for its game. That’s a 12 hour ride, taken to save money instead of flying.
How they competed shows that maybe I have been wrong in the past when I’ve said these games should not be played.
While they receive very little media attention, HBCUs still have many really good players – and good head coaches.
Mike London is at Howard University. Howard beat UNLV Saturday as a 45-point underdog, the biggest point-spread upset in college football history. He has head coaching experience at Liberty and got a win at Doak against FSU when he was leading the University of Virginia. He recruited Cam Newton’s brother to Howard and many two and three star prospects who, on that level and when developed, are like five-star prospects in FCS football.
Bethune-Cookman and FAMU are following suit. Alcorn State was where now-Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson turned out good clubs.
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