How COVID-19 curtailed HBCU football players’ chances of getting signed to an NFL team

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JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) — Hundreds of dreams came true this past weekend during the 2020 NFL Draft. The same couldn’t be said for athletes at historically black colleges and universities.

The only HBCU football player drafted in the 2020 NFL Draft was Tennessee State OT LeChavious Simmons to the Chicago Bears, while only a handful have signed free agency deals. Four HBCU players were taken in the 2019 NFL Draft.

With NFL teams not able to have mini rookie camps, coupled with the cancellation of the HBCU Combine and pro-days because of the COVID-19 outbreak, players have been stuck in limbo.

“It’s just kind of disappointing with the whole deal as far as HBCU-wise just getting one guy in the draft and now you don’t have mini camps, some of the guys probably won’t get picked up as a free agent,” said Alcorn State head coach Fred McNair. “I know Solomon [Muhammad], [De’Shawn] Waller, and Chris Blair, they had good numbers, you know. I think maybe the Colts and the Packers were talking to Chris Blair’s agent. So, hopefully something bounces around and these guys get an opportunity.”

Both Muhammad and Waller received HBCU Combine invites.

For back-to-back seasons, Muhammad garnered HBCU All-American first team and SWAC All-Conference first team honors. The middle linebacker wrapped-up 87 tackles to go along with a team-high 11 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.

Blair (left) tries to get past a North Carolina A&T defender during the Celebration Bowl.

Waller was also named to the SWAC All-Conference first team. The 5-11, 201 pound running back had an explosive junior year finishing eighth in the country in rushing yards per game with 121.5. He would end that season with 1,215 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.

Blair ranked sixth in the nation in yards per reception with 21.1. The team’s leading receiver hauled in 931 yards and seven scores.

“I know it’s frustrating for those guys because those guys worked really hard to get where they’re at now to be able to showcase their talents, and now not being able to,” said McNair.

The Braves finished the 2019 season, picking up their 13th SWAC Championship and a Celebration Bowl appearance.

“Knowing what these guys can do, if they just granted them an opportunity to play or get a shot at somebody’s camp, I think they’ll be grateful.”

Jackson State had one player invited to the HBCU Combine, defensive lineman C.J. Anderson. The Hattiesburg native finished the 2019 season with 46 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, and 3 sacks, earning All-Conference first team honors.

“I talked to C.J. [Anderson] yesterday,” said Jackson State head coach John Hendrick. “I just told him — I said, ‘you know the process is not the same like it normally is. So, don’t give up hope.”

Anderson after making a defensive stop during the Southern Heritage Classic.

Hendrick said, “It’s not good for them, but the process is what the process is.”

“It’s a different year. They didn’t get to evaluate how they normally do. When there’s no pro days and the normal evaluation process gets skewed — it’s not that they’re ignoring them — they just hadn’t had a chance to do what they needed to do, like they normally do. So, they’re going to miss those guys.”

NFL teams are telling players looking to get mini camp invites, it will be mid-summer before they are able to tell them anything more.

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