Did The Legacy Bowl Set A New Standard of Excellence for HBCU All-Star Games?
After a year where zero players from HBCUs were drafted in the NFL Draft, according to Legacy Bowl Founder Doug Williams, Mr. Williams and Mr. “Shack” Harris sat down and drew up plans to create a game that would highlight the best in HBCU football. This game would go on to be known as the Legacy Bowl and it was meant to emulate other well established senior “all-star” bowl games, but it would specifically shine a light on the best players from historically black colleges and universities. The field for these types of games is not ultra-crowded, but there are some staples including the Reese’s Senior Bowl, The East-West Shrine Bowl, and NFL Players’ Association Collegiate Bowl (NFLPA Bowl). For HBCU players it is an honor to be included in some of those games, but most draft-eligible HBCU players will not be invited to play in those games. For instance, the Senior Bowl, featured just two HBCU players on the roster, while the NFLPA Bowl had five HBCU players on its roster. Amongst the major games there was not a game that featured an abundance of NFL-Ready HBCU talent, that also had the support of the NFL. There is one now, and the game and the week leading up to the game exceeded the expectations of everyone involved according to the coaches and players who experienced it firsthand.
The HBCU Legacy Bowl week’s events involved Team Practices at Yulman Stadium (Stadium of the Tulane University Green Wave), dinners at famous New Orleans restaurants, meetings with NFL Scouts, community service events, a visit to Studio Be, a Career Fair for HBCU Students, Financial Planning Sessions, visits and talks from prominent current NFL Players, and a night of fun at Dave and Busters. Every coach and player when asked about their experience during the week had rave reviews about the quality of treatment they received during their week in New Orleans. South Carolina State Offensive Line Coach Nate Goddard said “This experience has been first-class all the way… when you’re putting on something for the first time you expect hiccups and mess ups and stuff, man these dudes got it right on the first try, between the food, the gear, the swag, the hotels, the practice times, man everything has been great.” Coach Goddard went on to say, “Even the buses been running great, AC in it so, its been a great experience, I’m so happy to be a part of the first one”.
Head Coach of the Florida A&M Rattlers, Willie Simmons of Florida A&M shared his thoughts on his experience as well, stating, “Its been awesome, Doug Williams, (James) “Shack” Harris, and the Black College Hall of Fame have done a great job of putting the best together for these guys, giving them a chance to showcase themselves in front of NFL personnel so its been a great week…” .
The coaches’ thoughts on their experience were further echoed by the players. South Carolina State cornerback Zafir Kelly, who turned heads at the HBCU Combine with a great workout for NFL Scouts, shared his thoughts on his experience during HBCU Legacy Bowl Week. Kelly said, “ It was great, it was definitely more then I expected, its definitely going to change the culture, though… It was a great experience, scouts, got to play against a good bit of the best HBCU players across the whole MEAC and the SWAC, so it was a great experience”.
Florida A&M’s Antwan Collier, the Defensive MVP of the game stated, “This was a great experience, man I just want to thank these people that created this event for us and I came out here and worked everyday and competed.” The HBCU Legacy Bowl roster featured players from both Division I and Division II Schools, this gives a platform to players like Trent Giles of Miles College to showcase that he has the skillset to compete with Division I players. Giles described his Legacy Bowl experience stating, “It was a great experience from the moment we touched down here…on the field and off the field, they just been treating us right, first class treatment the whole way, and it’s a good experience… coming from a smaller school to be able to come out here and compete with some of the bigger school guys.”
As a defensive back those bigger school guys included record-setting Alabama A&M Quarterback, Aqeel Glass, who participated in the Legacy Bowl after spending time at the NFLPA bowl. Media attending practices described Glass as head and shoulders above the other quarterbacks in terms of skills and polish. Glass went 9 for 11 for 141 yards and a touchdown at the NFL PA Collegiate Bowl. After leaving California and the NFLPA Bowl, Glass had this to say about his HBCU Legacy Bowl experience, “The whole week has been great…Overall, the week was amazing, great experience, surrounded by great people, I was just blessed to be a part of the first one”. HBCU Players were given helmets, jerseys, gear from sponsors, and a ring that commemorates their participation in the Black College Football Hall of Fame Legacy Bowl.
While every player that talked about their experience at the HBCU Legacy Bowl gave incredible feedback concerning the event, not every top HBCU prospect choose to participate in the Legacy Bowl. It would appear that the HBCU Legacy Bowl may take some time to fully establish itself as a premier destination for Black College Football’s elite athletes. This year, some people that were invited to play in the HBCU Legacy Bowl choose other all-star games. HBCU Legend Doug Williams in an interview prior to the Legacy Bowl stated, “It’s unfortunate, we got guys that we had choose for this game that said they’re not going to play, cause they playing in either the East-West Game or Senior Bowl , what have you, and they thinking that I made it now, but hopefully somewhere down the line they’ll understand that …this is an interview, and the more time you’re being seen, the more opportunities you have going into the league.” Doug Williams went on to say, “…I’m disappointed in some the guys that choose not to play in it, but you look at it as a whole we do have a pretty good roster of players from across all HBCUs in this country, so … we can’t worry about the ones who choose… not to play, we just have to go on with the guys we have in the game and have a great game down in New Orleans.”
The HBCU Legacy also saw the stars come out, with visits from Kansas City Chiefs Quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Actor and Director Michael Ealy, YouTube Star Deestroying, New Orleans Saints Offensive Tackle Terron Armstead, and a host of other NFL and Black College Football Hall of Fame stars. It will be interesting to see if the Legacy Bowl becomes one of the premiere destinations for Black College Athletes in the very near future.