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Jackson State Cornerback Isaiah Bolden Becomes The Only HBCU Player Selected in the 2023 NFL Draft

Jackson State University cornerback, Isaiah Bolden has been selected by the New England Patriots as the 245th overall draft pick in the 7th round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

Bolden becomes the only player from a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) picked in this year’s NFL draft.

According to USA Today, since 2000, HBCU players have not been picked at all in nine drafts. There were no players taken in the 2021 draft, and only four last year.

“It means a lot to me, carrying the weight of the HBCUs,” Bolden told ESPN after the New England Patriots selected him on Saturday. “There are a lot of talented guys out there,” he remarked.

According to HBCU Gameday, Bolden was ranked as one of the top 30 cornerbacks in the country landing him a spot at Florida State University. In 2020, he transferred to Jackson State shortly after Deion Sanders was hired. At Jackson State, he led the nation in kickoff return yards in the 2021 fall season averaging 36.9 yards and scored two touchdowns.

In the 2022 season, Bolden recorded 44 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, seven pass breakups, and one fumble recovery. Out of the 44 tackles 30 were solo. Additionally, he averaged 26 yards for kickoff returns. Bolden received recognition as the second-team SWAC cornerback and fourth-team kick returner for Phil Steele.

Bolden played a tremendous part in Jackson State bagging back-to-back SWAC championship titles, according to HBCU Gameday

The cornerback said his decision to change schools and play for Deon Sanders at Jackson State was to show other athletes the amazing opportunities HBCUs can provide. “I’m taking on the responsibility to show recruits and transfers that you can come to an HBCU and get to the league,” Bolden told ESPN. “Me being a part of that change is a big thing for me.”

Efforts to create more visibility for HBCU football players in front of NFL scouts and general managers have increased throughout the years with the HBCU Combine and the HBCU Legacy Bowl. All 32 teams sent representatives to this year’s HBCU combine and the 47 participants also played in the HBCU Legacy Bowl. Astonishingly, this added visibility has yet to lead to more HBCU players being drafted into the NFL.

Bolden being the lone HBCU player to be selected in the draft came as a surprise to many, including Florida A&M University head coach Willie Simmons who wrote on Twitter: “Truly a head scratcher at this point!!!”

Simmons’ comment is presumably in regard to Isaiah Land, an outside linebacker from Florida A&M, not being drafted as he was the top-ranked HBCU prospect this year, according to ESPN.

Former Jackson State head coach, Deion Sanders also took to Twitter to express his disdain over the lack of HBCU players drafted this year. After congratulating Bolden, he said, “I’m ashamed of the 31 other @nfl teams that couldn’t find draft value in ALL of the talented HBCU players…”

Steve Wyche, an NFL Network reporter and alumni of Howard Universitytweeted words of encouragement for HBCU athletes striving to make it to the NFL.

“To all the HBCU players that don’t get drafted. Use that as another chip on your shoulder so if you get into a camp, let them know what time it is. Remember, it’s about the opportunity. If you get your foot in the door, earn your keep and wake up all those who slept!”

According to HBCU Legends, many HBCU athletes have been contacted by NFL teams and given undrafted free-agent contracts or rookie mini-camp tryouts.