Edward Hill at Howard spots future pros in the black college ranksthe way others did before him
by Carl Lut Williams
I will remember the 2015 NFL Draft for several things.
Number one, four black college players went off the draft boards, a healthy increase from the total of five that had been selected in the three previous drafts.
More importantly however, I remember the fact that the first prospect to be selected was a little-known player from Delaware State, defensive tackle Rodney Gunter, who was taken by the Arizona Cardinals in the fourth round last Saturday.
More important still, for me, was that his selection was forecasted by longtime Howard University Sports Information Director Ed Hill.
Hill has been SID at Howard for over 30 years – long enough to know when he sees an NFL-bound player. He’s seen his share of talented players at Howard and on teams the Bison play who flashed exceptional talent.
Think Steve McNair, the Alcorn State quarterback who thrilled Hill so much as a sophomore that he raved about him long before he broke records, finished third in the 1994 Heisman Trophy race and was the third pick in the 1995 Draft.
Former Bethune-Cookman safety Rashean Mathis was another who flashed unquestioned NFL potential for the Wildcats and caught the eye of Hill before fashioning a now 11-year pro career. Ditto for Kenric Ellis, who dominated MEAC play before being plucked in the draft by the New York Jets five years ago. Anthoine Bethea, a sixth round pick of Indianapolis in 2006 headed toward his 11th NFL season, as well as former Howard NFL vet Tracy White, were also pegged NFL-bound by Hill early in their careers.
And that’s exactly what he saw in Gunter, a 6-5, 305-pound specimen who dominated the Bison when they played last Fall.
‘Keep your eye on Rodney Gunter,’ he told me this past season after the Bison and Hornets did battle on the gridiron. ‘He’s going to play in the NFL.’ Well, guess what? The scouts missed on Gunter. He wasn’t invited to the Combine or to any postseason all-star games and wasn’t even given a grade in draft boards.
To understand Hills’ eye for NFL talent, compare his to this story of how the Cardinals came upon Gunter. Both he and the Cardinals said Gunter ‘looked‘ like he belonged in the league.
Once upon a time, guys like Hill were employed by NFL teams to scout black colleges and find the gems that turn out to be stars in the league.
The Pittsburgh Steelers employed Bill Nunn Jr., who died a year ago this week, with his in-depth knowledge of black college football in 1967 to help build their dynasty. Nunn literally worked for the Steelers up till his death though he retired in 1988.
Pro Football Hall of Famers Mel Blount (Southern) and John Stallworth (Alabama A&M) as well as standouts Donnie Shell (South Carolina State), L. C. Greenwood (Arkansas AM&N now Pine Bluff) and a host or other pro standouts were the result of Nunns’ vital input. The Steelers had 12 black college players on the roster when they won their first Super Bowl (IX), 11 when they won again in Super Bowl X and five while winning SBs XIII and XIV. Blount, Shell, Greenwood and Stallworth were there for all four.
Current owner Dan Rooney considers Nunn one of the four legends in Steelers history.
Lloyd C. A. “Judge“ Wells, the first full-time African-American scout in the NFL, did the same for the 1960s Kansas City Chiefs beginning with their picks of Buck Buchanan (Grambling), the first African-American drafted No. 1 in a pro draft in 1963, and Otis Taylor (Prairie View) in 1965. Jim Kearney (Prairie View), Emmit Thomas (Bishop) and Willie Lanier (Morgan State), the first African-American to play middle linebacker in the league, followed. Buchanan, Thomas and Lanier are Hall of Famers.
The Chiefs played in two of the first four Super Bowls with players stocked from the black college ranks who were mined by Wells. Kansas City had 11 African-American starters when they won Super Bowl IV(23-7 over Minnesota) in 1969. Nine of those starters were from black colleges. Wells passed in 2005.
If Hill looks for employment after his long tenure at Howard, maybe an NFL team with Super Bowl aspirations can hook him up.
ATLANTA, Ga-Usually reliable sources which can’t be ignored have informed INSIDE that the 2014 version of the Atlanta Football Classic put on the last 25 years by the exalted brothers of the Atlanta chapter of 100 Black men is the last. It’s a done deal…permanently.
Now, nothing would please me more than for chapter president George Lamar or some member in officialdom to call this writer and tell me that my sources are wrong and that the game will go on as it has been since I was humbled to work closely with the brethren and even broadcast the first game over 1380AM WAOK (did I mention that our broadcast crew consisted of me doing play-by-play, former NFL great Matt Snorten analyzing and Robin Roberts-yes THE Robin Roberts – doing sideline reporting?). But other “insiders” say not only is 2015 NOT going to happen, the 100 may be throwing in with the new “Celebration Bowl” (SWAC champ vs. MEAC Champ) scheduled for December 19 at the Georgia Dome………….
OglesbyThe beloved cities of Atlanta and Philadelphia lost a true champ in Ernest “ Broadway” Oglesby who went to his great reward on April 22. A memorial celebration was held in Atlanta at St Paul’s Episcopal Church on May 3. Oglesby’s friends here and in Philadelphia where he spent many years working for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Leon Sullivan’s OIC were on hand to both chided and applauded the man some called “Mr O,” “the chairman” or “Broadway.”
Among the many things he did in his 83 years on this earth was coach the golf program at Morris Brown (he was one of the pillars of the National Negro Golfers Association). The stories his friends related at the memorial service drew roaring laughter, shouts of amen and tears; even from Father Charles Fischer, Rector of St Paul’s. “He was a model parishioner, and my brother. Ernest fought the good fight. He now stands on the shores of Beulah Land”………
Renfroe (R) with Jackie Robinson as Kansas City Monarch in 1945Atlanta recently honored a former Negro League baseball star turned sportscaster Othello Nelson “Chico” Renfroe. Renfroe passed away from us in 1991 and now has a major Atlanta softball field bearing his name. A huge sign now greets visitors to the field located inside the city’s historic Washington Park on Atlanta’s West Side. You can read all about Renfroe, born in New Jersey, partly raised in Jacksonville, Florida but moved to Atlanta with family in the late 30s. He became an outstanding student-athlete in high school and at Clark-Atlanta University before deciding to get deep into baseball, his favorite sport. He achieved a modicum of success at it, playing with several teams to include the Kansas City Monarchs, teaming with eventual major league Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson. After playing in the US and overseas for several years, he settled down in Atlanta, raised six sons, worked for the post office as a letter carrier, for the city with the Atlanta Community Relations Commission and as a sportscaster with two radio stations here. In the 1970s, he anchored FAMU football broadcasts over the multi-station Rattler Radio Network. This writer/broadcaster had the privilege of working alongside him at Atlanta’s 1340AM WIGO Radio. I remember many things about Chico and learned a lot from him about sports history and the importance of reaching out to youth which he did in abundance. But what I will always remember about him and think of often when I ponder my future was what became his signature sign-off for all of his broadcasts…. “The game of life is never over until the final whistle has blown”
BlountXTRA POINTS: Kermit Blount has returned to the CIAA as a head coach. He is the new head man at Johnson C Smith University. Blount, a Winston-Salem grad and one of its greatest quarterbacks, is coming home after a stint at Delaware State University. Atlanta will get to see him in September when his Golden Bulls come to town to take on Morehouse………
Four players from HBCU schools were picked up in the 2015 draft and that is encouraging for me, especially considering only seven of our boys were picked up in the last five years. The last time a brother was picked up in round one from an HBCU was 2008 when Tennessee State corner Dominique Rogers-Cromartie became the 16th player selected. It happens that this year, the highest player drafted was a DSU Hornet, defensive tackle Rodney Gunter, taken in round four by Arizona……….
Jerry Rice. Walter Payton. Willie Davis. Deacon Jones.Ware
These are just a few of the greatest players that have ever played in the NFL. One of the things that they have in common is that they attended HBCUs.
They were also drafted.
Just four players from HBCUs were selected in the 2015 NFL Draft. That was the most since four were taken in 2011. The numbers are still comparatively down from past years, but better than the total of five players that had been selected the previous three years.
Disappointing was not necessarily the number of players that were drafted as much as some of the players that weren’t drafted.
Norfolk State BOXTOROW All-American linebacker Lynden Trail (6-7, 269) was not selected. Despite participating in the NFL Combine and putting up some solid numbers and even lowering his 40-time at his equally impressive pro day, he signed a free agent contract with the Houston Texans.
“To some extent it was kind of disappointing that I went undrafted, but I look at a lot of people’s path, and I’m a true believer in God. I believe he lays out a path for everybody,” Trail told WAVY TV in Portsmouth, VA.
But not being drafted wasn’t the end of the world.
“A lot of teams explained to me after that they went to war for me in the draft room, but it just didn’t pan out the way they wanted to,” he explained. “So…the Texans were a place that had almost the whole coaching staff call my agents, which really showed me that they truly and some type of interest in me.”
This reminds me of former Bethune-Cookman star and BOXTOROW All-American defensive end Ryan Davis not being drafted in 2012. Davis had a phenomenal senior season and impressed at several combines. Last year, Davis played in all 16 games for the Jaguars, registering 6.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. In March Davis resigned with the Jaguars on a one-year contract.
A pleasant surprise was the drafting of Delaware State defensive tackle Rodney Gunter (6-5, 305) in the fourth round by the Arizona Cardinals, number 116 overall. Gunter was an All-MEAC second team performer in 2014. As a matter of fact, the Cardinals moved up – trading away 123 (4th round), 198 (6th round) and 241 (7th round) – to get him.
“Man, that says they're really interested in me, they really believe in me," Gunter said of what Arizona gave up to acquire him. "I'm going to take that into consideration every time I step on the field or come to meetings, meeting the coaches. They really believe in me. I thank God for that. It's a blessing, a dream come true. I'm so speechless right now."
The Cardinals organization has had a propensity to choose successful small college and HBCU players. Last year they selected John Brown in the third round from Division II Pittsburg State. Two-time pro bowler Justin Bethel was a sixth round pick in 2012. In 2008 they selected former Tennessee State star Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the first round and in 2009 selected Greg Toler from St. Paul’s in the fourth round.
As expected, Texas Southern cornerback Tray Walker (6-2, 189) was selected – also in the fourth round, 136 overall – by the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens were one of 11 teams that the All-SWAC second team performer visited as his stock began to rise after participating in a regional combine in March.
“I was at a loss for words,” Walker told the Houston Chronicle. “I was on the phone when my name appeared on the TV. Tears came crawling down my eyes.”
Tennessee State offensive guard Robert Myers (6-5, 329) was also selected by the Ravens, in the fifth round, 176th overall. Like Trail, Myers also participated in the NFL Combine in February.
The last draftee was Tennessee State offensive guard Anthony Morris, who was taken by the Oakland Raiders as the first pick of the seventh round. Morris was definitely under the radar, but at 6’7, 303 he is versatile, projected as a guard having played tackle at TSU. He was part of the vaunted TSU offensive line that did not allow a sack in the last four games. Morris stared 10 of 11 games this season, despite playing injured a good part of the season. He had a great pro day which included running 5.2 seconds in the 40 which generated some awareness among NFL brass.
Morris was the second TSU offensive lineman drafted and the fourth in the last two years. Last year guard Kadeem Edward and center Demetrius Rhaney were drafted. The tandem was the only two HBCU players taken in last year’s draft.
The NFL Draft has not been kind to HBCU players the last couple of years and that is putting it mildly.Ellis
Only five players from HBCUs have been taken in the last three drafts. Only four players were drafted in 2011 when Kenrick Ellis (DT, Hampton, 3rd round by the New York Jets), Johnny Culbreath (OL, South Carolina State, 7th round by the Detroit Lions, Frank Kearse (DT, Alabama A&M, 7th round by the Miami Dolphins and Curtis Holcomb (DB, Florida A&M, 7th round by the San Francisco 49ers) heard their names called. Ellis is still with the Jets as a starter and Kearse played a significant role for the Redskins last year, playing in 15 of 16 games.
In 2009, Sammie Lee Hill (Stillman), Greg Toler (St. Paul’s), Don Carey (Norfolk State) and Javarris Williams (Tennessee State) were all drafted. Hill and Toler started every game they played in 2014 and Carey started three games and was a significant part of the Lions success defensively.
The talent at HBCUs is there.
And this year is no different. Below is a list of players who have the best opportunity to be drafted.
Jerry Lovelocke, QB, Prairie View A&M (6-4, 248) LovelockeLovelocke was one of four HBCU players to participate in the NFL Combine and he was invited to be a “throwing quarterback” meaning he threw passes to receivers, running backs, tight ends and defensive backs. His throwing at the combine was impressive and many of the teams’ brass talked with Lovelocke. Lovelocke has great size and a strong arm. A Baltimore native, he visited the Ravens and Washington Redskins local prospect camps this week. Last season he completed 58 percent of his passes for 2,473 yards with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. As a junior he completed 66 percent of his passes for 2,838 yards with 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions. I have seen him listed as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in this draft class. By the way, Lovelock will graduate this May. Here is some workout footage from the Combine http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-combine/0ap3000000479437/2015-Combine-workout-Jerry-Lovelocke
Robert Myers, OG, Tennessee State (6-5, 326) MyersMyers comes from a great program at Tennessee State where the only two HBCU players taken in last year’s draft – Kadeem Edwards and Demetrius Rhaney – were TSU offensive linemen. Myers participated in the NFL Combine and the Senior Bowl. He has great size and earned the nickname Quadzilla at the Combine because of the size of his quads. He started every game last year for the Tigers and did not allow a sack. Myers has a lot of potential and with work he should be a starter in the NFL. He could go as high as the fifth round. By the way, Myers didn’t begin playing football until his senior year in high school which makes his story even more intriguing. The following link is a thorough breakdown of Myers http://profootball.scout.com/story/1523924-robert-myers-player-evaluation
Marcus Reed, OG, Fayetteville State (6-5, 345) ReedIf there ever were a sleeper in this year’s draft, Reed would be that guy. A JUCO transfer from Texas, who started every game both year’s for the Broncos, Reed participated in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl where he was impressive. He was also impressive on his pro day in March at NC State University. Reed played tackle and guard for the Broncos but is a projected guard in the NFL. Progression is nothing new to Reed. After two years at Kilgore Junior College, the only offer he had to continue playing football was from Fayetteville State. He was an instant starter his first year in the program. Don’t be surprised if he is taken between rounds 4-6.
Lynden Trail, LB/TE Norfolk State (6-7, 268) TrailTrail had three outstanding seasons with the Spartans including last season where he was named to the BOXTOROW All-American team after recording 91 tackles (32 solo), 11.5 tackles for loss, four passes defended and two blocked kicks, despite facing constant double and triple teams. His size is obviously intriguing; the question is will he be drafted as an offensive or defensive player? On defense he could play linebacker or defensive end and took reps at both at the NFL Combine and Senior Bowl. But he also played some tight end for the Spartans, catching three touchdown passes as a junior and taking reps at the position during his pro day. Trail told me he wasn’t initially satisfied with his 40 time at the Combine (4.91), but worked to improve his time and did much better at his pro day less than a month later (4.77). He could be selected in the 4-6 round area. In addition to this physical upside, he has the potential to play three different positions. By the way he is being worked out by Pro Football Hall of Famer Randy White. MMQB w/ Peter King called him the NFL Draft’s biggest mystery http://mmqb.si.com/2015/02/25/lynden-trail-nfl-draft/
Tray Walker, CB, Texas Southern (6-2, 189) WalkerDuring the 2014 season Walker wasn’t necessarily known as one of the biggest names in HBCU football. Now, he could be the first HBCU players taken in the draft as I have seen his name as high as going in the fifth round. Walker is the name with the most buzz right now. He has constantly been on planes the last couple of weeks, having visited 11 teams, four of them holding private workouts for him. Walker was named to the All-SWAC second team after registering 41 tackles (24 solo), three interceptions and four pass breakups. Not staggering numbers. But during his pro day in front of representatives from 27 NFL teams, Walker impressed. At 6-2, 195, NFL teams like his size at corner and he has the longest arms (33”) and longest wingspan (80 3/8”) of any corner in the draft class. He also runs a 4.4/40. He told me that Pro Football Hall of Famer Rod Woodson, who is the Raiders assistant defensive backs coach, was really impressed with him. He has been called a Richard Sherman clone. Sherman was also picked in the fifth round.
Also watch for…
Phillip Sims, QB, Winston-Salem State (6-1, 225) Sims is probably on the outside looking in as far as being drafted although you never know. The one thing that isn’t in question is his arm strength. As Rams beat reporter John Dell of the Winston-Salem Journal wrote, during Sims’ pro day at Wake Forest, he showed off his arm by having everyone backup to the 30 yardline which allowed Sims to throw the ball 65 yards in the air. Receivers couldn’t catch up to the ball. Sims had success as the quarterback at Virginia and Alabama. As a matter of fact Alabama coach Nick Saban wrote a letter to NFL teams on Sims’ behalf vouching for him. Sims completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,560 yards with 15 touchdowns and only four interceptions while sharing time with Rudy Johnson in 2014. Winston-Salem Journal story on Phillip Sims pro day http://www.journalnow.com/sports/wssu/football/wssu-s-sims-shows-off-his-arm-at-nfl-pro/article_6757e82d-b3cf-5413-a867-bfdefd932ecf.html
These players and other draft hopefuls are scheduled to join me this weekend and next on FROM THE PRESS BOX TO PRESS ROW which can be heard on these radio stations around the country www.boxtorow.com/affiliates.php and Saturdays 12 Noon ET/11 a.m. CT/10 a.m. MT/9 a.m. PT on SiriusXM Channel 142.
Note: Former Howard quarterback Greg McGhee opted to take a different route and sign with the B.C. Lions of the CFL. McGhee is a two-time MEAC Offensive Player of the Year and the 2011 BOXTOROW Rookie of the Year. He is the MEAC’s all-time leader in total offense with 10,168 yards. McGhee will graduate in May with a degree in sports management with a minor in psychology and reports to the Lions on Sunday.
Eric Mayo is one of the toughest players in the CIAA, helping the Livingstone Blue Bears win back to back championships. His defining moment may be a 19 point come from behind victory against Winston-Salem State on senior night in Salisbury. It was a personal loss that inspired that win and another CIAA Title. Photos courtesy: Erin Mizelle, TVOne, News and Observer, The Shelby Star.