When Charles Dickens wrote “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” for “A Tale of Two Cities,” black college football probably was not on his mind.
Yet those famous words seem fitting when describing the state of the game in regards to the 2012 NFL Draft. From a statistical standpoint, the continued downward trend of players chosen from Historically Black Colleges and Universities reached another low point with only one selection in the seven rounds.
Truly, it’s a far cry from the 1960s and 1970s when both the AFL and NFL saw HBCUs as fertile ground for hungry, unheralded talent who eventually contributed mightily to success of championship teams like Kansas City, Oakland and Pittsburgh, just to name a few.
South Carolina State was among those schools which figured prominently among NFL scouts. At one time, the school was as prolific in producing draft picks who became All-Pros like Barney Chavous and Harry Carson as its in-state Division I counterparts.
Following the 1996 season, however, the number of S.C. State players in the pro ranks began to decline steadily. Over the next 14 seasons, draft selections became even rarer with the notable exception of tight end Arthur Love in 2001 and the only opportunities available came through free agency.
Recently, S.C. State has experienced a revival in NFL prominence. With safety Christian Thompson just so happening to be the lone HBCU player drafted (fourth round by the Baltimore Ravens), it marked the first time since the 1990s a Bulldog was selected three years in a row (Phillip Adams in 2010 and Johnny Culbreath last year).
Add the addition of three rookie free agent signings with Marshall McFadden (Pittsburgh), Donovan Richard (Jacksonville) and Dominique Ellis (Kansas City) and S.C. State currently has its highest number of NFL players (8) on team rosters in recent memory.
From an HBCU football standpoint, this would count as “the best of times” right now in terms of NFL interest. S.C. State head coach Buddy Pough, who was teammates with Carson and Donnie Shell, takes a more cautionary view.
“I guess a little bit of an honor and also a little bit of a sign of the times, too,” he said. “There’s just not that many spots available anymore and there’s just so many programs, so many top-notch programs around the country that the competition is really key for those few opportunities that you have to move on to the next level.”
Pough acknowledged he was surprised by how high Thompson went not because he did not see him as worthy, but due to the low level of respect HBCU players receive from scouts. With the increased number of S.C. State players in the NFL, Pough is hoping they use this opportunity to open more doors. Read more: