The 2022 NFL Draft will be an event that changes the lives of many young Black men forever.
Starting Thursday night and culminating on Saturday, players will get calls from teams around the league and embark on their respective journeys as professional athletes.
Many young men who are expecting those calls will come from historically Black colleges and universities HBCUs. These institutions have traditionally produced Hall of Fame-level talents such as Walter Payton, Jerry Rice and Michael Strahan, to name just a few.
In the 1960s and 1970s, before top Black talent started going to predominantly white institutions, HBCUs were like a gold mine for NFL talent. However, in 2021 not one HBCU player was selected in the draft. In 2020, only one player, Tennessee State University offensive lineman LaChavious Simmons, was selected in the seven-round draft.
The lack of HBCU draft picks over the past two years has caused plenty of conversation among many in HBCU athletic circles. While we are only three years removed from Alabama State’s Tytus Howard being selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, this year’s installment will still be pivotal for these prospects and these HBCU programs regardless of when they are picked.
Josh Williams, a defensive back from Fayetteville State, was one of the most dominant players in Division II football last year and was a leader on Fayetteville State’s 2021 squad that went undefeated in conference play until falling to Bowie State in the CIAA championship game.
The physically imposing cornerback has turned many heads this season and could be the first Fayetteville State player drafted to the NFL since 1976. Williams was also the only Division II prospect invited to this year’s Senior Bowl, which is a showcase for upperclassmen across the country looking to impress NFL evaluators before the draft. Scouts have projected that Williams will be drafted in the fifth round.
In an exclusive interview with NewsOne, Williams talked about how unique of a position it is to be an HBCU draft prospect.
“Everybody is rooting for each other. We know that we don’t necessarily have the easiest path and it’s nice to know that other people had to go through a similar grind as you and there’s some camaraderie in it,” said Williams.
“A lot of times, HBCU guys get overlooked. Being able to stop a lot of those narratives and rewrite what people think about HBCUs and their athletes, I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Williams continued. “I think all of the athletes here that I’ve spoken to, they are giving it their all so they can put their best foot forward and try to change the false narratives behind HBCUs.”
In the league today, HBCU standouts like NFL pro-bowler Darius Leonard from South Carolina State are still showing that HBCU products deserve a chance to prove that they can play on the highest level.
Williams and the rest of his talented HBCU draft class will be looking to join Leonard and his professional Black college peers to prove once again that these historic institutions should never be overlooked.