The Southwestern Athletic Conference has given the NFL Jerry Rice, the league’s all-time reception leader; Walter Payton, the No. 2 all-time rushing leader; Michael Strahan, the league’ single-season sack champion and Doug Williams, MVP of Super Bowl XXII. In three of the past four NFL drafts, the SWAC has given the league nothing.
Zero. Zilch. Nada. Bupkiss.
Have the SWAC and HBCUs lost their swagger? To get a handle on this, consider that Alabama had four players drafted in the first round this year, a number equal to players from Historically Black Colleges and Universities taken in the last two years – all four coming from the Mideastern Athletic Conference. The only player taken this year was Christian Thompson, a safety from South Carolina State selected in the fourth round by the Baltimore Ravens. Since 2005, only five SWAC players have been drafted.
The landscape of college football has changed so dramatically, it would appear to be unfair to today’s SWAC athletes to compare their situation to those of players three decades ago. Hampering contemporary players is too many options to play. There was a great concentration of talent in the old SWAC. Now kids who didn’t go to power conference Division I programs are going to other FCS schools or strong Division II programs and the draft has been truncated from 20 rounds in 1965 to seven, a format the NFL has used for several years.
Still the lack of draftees is staggering.
“It’s not like great players have stopped coming out of the SWAC, so it is a surprise to me,” said Michael Strahan, formerly of Texas Southern and now a FOX Sports analyst. “I know there are only seven rounds and maybe the guys were picked in later rounds before. I am stunned by that. One person out of seven rounds and 32 teams that is amazing to me.”
Strahan always sought out HBCU players when he played for the Giants. He’d look for a Donald Driver (Alcorn State) and Lewis Tillman (Jackson State) was already in New York when he got there. And then there was the pregame ritual that kept him grounded.
“I would pick up the Game Day magazine and look down the rosters and see where they went to school,” Strahan said. “I wanted to see if there was a guy from the SWAC or a black college and make sure I would look for him after the game and say hi.
“I know when I came out and was a second round pick they said, ‘Well I’m not sure about the competition he played against. I thought by now that would be an obsolete observation. That doesn’t make any sense because if you’re a good football player, you’re a good football player. It doesn’t matter what school you come out of.”
Unfortunately, for HBCU players, Doug Williams begs to differ.
“A lot of NFL scouts come with a negative mentality,” said Williams, now head coach at Grambling. “They come in thinking there’s no players there. They will grade the school instead of the player. They’ll think, ‘There’s nobody [worth drafting] at Grambling, or Jackson State or Southern. I’m not saying all scouts are like that. But I know there are some.”
Even in the heyday of the SWAC, when a kid was drafted he was considered a project. Their coaching and individual techniques dismissed as they more times than not were drafted on pure physical attributes. The most common term used in evaluations was “raw.”
“You hear you’re raw, you’re raw, you’re raw,” Strahan said. “But how many of those so called polished players turned out to be horrible football players? I think it’s about the heart of the guy and about the commitment of the player. I don’t know. Maybe the scouts are lazy now. Read Full