Troy Vincent Sr.
Here’s a message for football players at Historically Black Colleges and Universities across the country, including North Carolina.
As you report to your teams this summer, know this: You should aim high. Train with big dreams. There’s a path to the NFL that runs straight through HBCUs — and it’s only getting wider.
In 2022, four HBCU football players were selected in the NFL Draft. Thirty-three more signed with clubs as undrafted free agents or received invitations to rookie camps. That’s 37 HBCU players — starting with Fayetteville State’s Joshua Williams in the fourth round — with a chance to make an NFL roster.
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In 2021, there were no HBCU athletes drafted. The year before that? Just one. The results showed that we weren’t living up to our creed of “football is for all.”
We accelerated our efforts, starting with a conversation with Hall of Famers Ronnie Lott and Willie Lanier. They asked how they could help close the resource gap between HBCUs (some of which haven’t had a new playing surface in decades) and schools in the Power Five conferences, with their big-money media deals. Coaches such as Deion Sanders at Jackson State also have been allies and powerful advocates for the HBCU pipeline.
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Together, the NFL, HBCUs, and partners are taking initiative to level the playing field. There are four pillars: equity, which ensures scouting opportunities exist for HBCU athletes; awareness of the excellent football programs at HBCU schools of all sizes; exposure for the athletes themselves; and what we call the sense of athletic closure, which, put simply, instills in HBCU athletes that they can realistically pursue a career in pro football because the opportunity exists. Through this partnership, the door of opportunity has been opened.
Every step is intentional. Every club, GM, scouting department, and HBCU athletic program plays a role.
This past January, 39 prospects representing 22 HBCUs showed their skills at the NFL’s inaugural HBCU Combine. Evaluators from all 32 clubs were on hand.
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The HBCU Scouting Committee was launched to generate and distribute a list of the top 150 draft-eligible HBCU players.
The HBCU Video Exchange Program was initiated to provide NFL scouts game film access for evaluating emergent players.
The NFL Network now gives a national platform to showcase events such as the HBCU Legacy Bowl, and no-cost courses are provided for HBCU players to learn more about the NFL draft process and how to maximize college resources.
Development opportunities are available for HBCU coaches and officials, too.
HBCU talent has a place in the NFL, just as HBCUs play an important role in society. These are influential institutions producing Black excellence in all fields, and on all fields.
This pipeline will grow in the years to come as we continue this work. Top student athletes are committing to HBCUs through the transfer portal; the ability for college athletes to sign name, image and likeness deals could also open up new opportunities.
As an HBCU football athlete, you should be encouraged. Approach each practice, each game, with the spirit of excellence so exemplified by the legacy of your institution. Meanwhile, the NFL and its partners will continue to keep the door of opportunity open as you pursue your dream.
Troy Vincent Sr. is the executive vice president of football operations for the National Football League. He is a five-time Pro Bowler and received the 2002 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, named for the Hall of Famer drafted fourth overall out of the HBCU Jackson State.