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Two more HBCUers join College Football Hall of Fame

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July 18, 2010

By Alvin Hollins, Jr.

This weekend, two more HBCU gridiron greats, Maryland-Eastern Shore (Maryland State College) star running back Emerson Boozer and coaching legend Willie Jeffries, the first African American to be named head football coach at a Division I-A school, joined 26 others who have gone before into the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame, during festivities Friday and Saturday, July 16-17 in South Bend, Indiana.

This year’s group was the 15th Divisional College Hall of Fame class inducted into the prestigious College Football Hall of Fame, which launched its Divisional Hall of Fame program in 1996, with a total of 124 players and coaches, counting this year's class, having been inducted in this category, including Terry Bradshaw (Louisiana Tech), Walter Payton (Jackson State), John Randle (Texas A&M-Kingsville), Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State), and coach Eddie Robinson (Grambling State).

Jeffries, who was recently named head coach emeritus at South Carolina State, was the first African-American to be hired as a head coach at a Division-I school (Wichita State), finished his career as the winningest coach in South Carolina State and MEAC history.

During a nineteen-year coaching career at S.C. State, which included two tenures – 1973-1978 and 1989-2001 – Jeffries achieved unparalleled success, winning more football games than any other coach in school history, compiling a 128-77-4 mark during his two stints as Bulldog head coach, mentoring fellow College Football Hall of Famers Harry Carson and Donnie Shell along the way.

The Union, SC native and 1960 alumnus, also owns more MEAC victories than any other coach in the long history of the league, having won seven conference crowns – six at S.C. State and one at Howard.

During his remarkable 29-year collegiate head-coaching career – which included five-year stints at both Wichita State and Howard -- he compiled a 179-132-6 record, a winning percentage of over sixty percent.

A three-time Black National Championship winner, Jeffries is credited with inventing the "Freeze Option" offense and is the only person in history to coach against College Football Hall of Famers Paul "Bear" Bryant and Eddie Robinson. He is a member of both the MEAC Hall of Fame and SCSU Athletic Hall of Fame, and is a 2001 recipient the Order of the Silver Crescent, South Carolina's highest honor for Outstanding Community Service.

@ Former Hawk gridiron great Boozer played for the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), then Maryland State College (MSC), from 1962-1965.

Boozer, who wore the famed #44, a jersey worn by many great Hawk running backs, compiled 2,537 yards and 22 touchdowns on 374 carries during his career. He averaged an impressive 6.78 yards per carry during his time in the Maroon and Grey. His career rushing yards total still stands as a UMES record.

A two-time CIAA All-American, Boozer was drafted in the sixth round, 46th overall, by the New York Jets in the American Football League draft, playing for 10 seasons. He was also picked in the NFL draft that same year by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the seventh round with the 98th pick, before the merger of the two leagues.

Named the 1966 AFL Rookie of the Year by The Pittsburgh Courier, Boozer was an AFL All-Star in 1966 and 1968, winning the AFL Championship in 1968 en route to the now-fabled upset by his Jets of the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, marking the first time an AFL team defeated an original NFL franchise.

A native of Augusta, Georgia, Boozer led the AFL in touchdowns in 1967 (13) and 1972 (14), and currently ranks 52nd all-time in NFL history in rushing touchdowns (52) and 100th in total TDs (65). He rushed for 5,135 yards and compiled 1,488 receiving.

Boozer, who currently resides in Long Island, N.Y. with his wife, Enez Bowins, worked at one time as an analyst for football games at CBS.

He is one of three Hawks now to be named to the College Football Hall of Fame. Roger Brown was inducted in 2009 and legendary coach Vernon "Skip" McCain was enshrined in 2006.

Until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s began to change the social, political and economic landscape of America, there was, for lack of a better expression, two separate worlds – one white and one black.

Never was that more evident than in the Deep South, where education from the public schools to the colleges were segregated, in stark contrast to schools in the Northeast, Midwest and West Coast, which were open to Blacks and other minorities.

Thus with the deep pool of African American talent, in the South especially relegated to the HBCUs, many of those schools – FAMU, Grambling, Southern, Tennessee State, Prairie View, Jackson State and Morgan State among them – built dominant programs that excelled in all sports, especially football, basketball, track and baseball.

But once the recruiting of Black talent began in earnest in the Deep South in the late 1960s and early 1970s, along with the demise of the Black public school system, youngsters began answering the siren call of the major schools, which sought to level the playing field against competition from other areas of the country, leaving the HBCUs for the first time to scramble for talent.

However, the seeds for change began to sprout in the mid-1970s with the advent of the Black talent into the college and pro mainstreams, leading to the induction into the College Hall of Fame of HBCU coaching greats A.S. “Jake” Gaither of Florida A&M in 1975 and Morgan State mentor Earl Banks in 1992.

Things really began moving in the right direction in the mid-1990s, when the National Football League announced its’ 75th anniversary football team, and then the mainstream media began to take notice of the large number of Black College players from Paul “Tank” Younger, to Buck Buchanan and Willie Lanier, Walter Payton and Jerry Rice, who had made a major impact on the pro game, and the coaches who had tutored them.

The NFL’s 75th anniversary team was also accompanied by All-Decade teams dating back to the 1920s, which also brought to light additional HBCU impact players from the 1950s on, many of whom played for the old American Football League (AFL), helping to close the competitive gap between the rival leagues leading to their eventual merger in 1970.

This revelation of the HBCU impact on the NFL prompted the compiling of a number of All-Time Black College Football teams and All-Century Teams (since many HBCUs began play prior to 1900) by various Black media outlets, and an increasing number of mainstream media sources, notably USA Today.

It was the bully pulpit of USA Today and one of its’ principal sportswriters, Tom Weir, which helped led the media campaign for the inclusion of HBCU players in the College Hall of Fame.

At the same time, public pressure also came from interests representing schools in NCAA Division I-AA, Two and Three as well as the NAIA, eventually leading the College Football Hall of Fame to open its’ doors to all divisions in 1996, finally allowing the coaching contemporaries of Banks and Gaither, along with many outstanding HBCU players to finally garner long deserved recognition.

In 1996, the inaugural Divisional Hall of Fame Class of players and coaches was announced and representing the HBCU ranks in that first group were Grambling’s All-America and NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Buck Buchanan and FAMU’s three-time All-America guard Tyrone McGriff.

Since 1996, 10 HBCU coaches and 16 HBCU players have been enshrined in the College Hall of Fame.

HBCU Players and Coaches in the College Football Hall of Fame

Player School Year Inducted
Emerson Boozer Maryland Eastern Shore
Roger Brown Maryland Eastern Shore
Buck Buchanan Grambling
Harry Carson South Carolina State
Kevin Dent Jackson State
Willie Galimore Florida A&M
Gary Johnson Grambling
Willie Lanier Morgan State
Tyrone McGriff Florida A&M
Walter Payton Jackson State
Jerry Rice Mississippi Valley State
Willie Richardson Jackson State
Donnie Shell South Carolina State
Ben Stevenson Tuskegee
Willie Totten Mississippi Valley State
Doug Williams Grambling
Paul "Tank" Younger Grambling
Earl Banks Morgan State 1992*
Marino Casem Alabama State, Alcorn State, Southern 2003
Jake Gaither Florida A&M 1975*
W. C. Gorden Jackson State 2008
Willie Jeffries S.C. State, Howard, Wichita State 2010
Billy Joe Cheyney State, Central State (Ohio), FAMU 2007
Vernon “Skip” McCain Maryland Eastern Shore 2006
John Merritt Jackson State, Tennessee State 1994
Arnett “Ace” Mumford Jarvis Christian, Bishop, Texas College, Southern University 2001
Billy Nicks Morris Brown, Prairie View 1999
Doug Porter Mississippi Valley, Howard, Fort Valley 2008
Eddie Robinson Grambling 1997

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