NCF Nation: 2013 HBCU

The season's best in the MEAC and SWAC

November, 21, 2013
The college football season is winding down. It’s time to take a look at the top HBCU players and coaches in the MEAC and SWAC. Both conferences had a number of great players in just about every phase of the game. There were some great coaching jobs as well.

It’s not easy picking the top offensive and defensive players in each league. There are at least three or four worthy candidates in each category. The same thing applies with the coaches. Nevertheless, it’s time to hand out the top honors in both leagues.


Offensive Player of the Year

QB Greg McGhee, Howard

McGhee had a great all-around season. The Bisons signal-caller is the second-leading passer in the MEAC. He completed 202 of 337 passes for 2,114 yards with 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. McGhee did a nice job throwing the ball downfield. And when the protection broke down, he showed some good speed getting away from the rush. McGhee’s running and passing skills were a big reason why he led the conference in total offense with 2,863 yards.

Defensive Player of the Year

LB Tazmon Foster, North Carolina Central

Foster has the ability to go sideline-to-sideline and make plays. He led the MEAC in tackles with 74 solo and 131 total. He is an NFL-caliber linebacker. Foster knows how to pick his spots in rushing the passer. He had two sacks. You have to know where he is on the field. He made a lot of plays with his speed and tackling ability.

Coach of the Year

Brian Jenkins, Bethune-Cookman

Jenkins hasn’t missed a beat since coming to Bethune-Cookman in 2010. Prior to B-CU, he was an assistant at Rutgers. He has won two MEAC championships already and B-CU (9-2 overall, 6-1 MEAC) should capture the league title again this year. It already has a win over Florida International, an FBS school, and its only league loss was to Norfolk State.


Offensive Player of the Year

QB Dray Joseph, Southern

Joseph is one of the best passers in FCS. The Jaguars' field general can make all the throws. He has completed 229 of 365 passes for 3,010 yards with 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His passing exploits have led Southern to the top of the SWAC Western Division. He has a big game coming up against archrival Grambling State in the legendary Bayou Classic in the Superdome in New Orleans on Saturday, Nov. 30.

Defensive Player of the Year

LB Jer-Ryan Harris, Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Harris is a real hitter. He has 51 solo and 97 total tackles this season. Harris knows how to play the run. He reads the play very quickly, comes up and makes the tackle. Harris should get some NFL looks.

Coach of the Year

Jay Hopson, Alcorn State

Hopson, the Braves second-year head coach, helped Alcorn State exceed all expectations by leading it to a 9-3 overall and 7-2 record in the SWAC. The Braves recently pulled off a major upset over Jackson State, 48-33. Hopson was just 4-7 overall and 4-5 in the SWAC last season. In just two seasons, he has set a great foundation for the Braves.


  • Alcorn State quarterback John Gibbs has been named the SWAC Offensive Player of the Week. Gibbs completed 18 of 32 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns in the win over Jackson State.
  • Alcorn State defensive back Quinton Cantue has been chosen as the SWAC Defensive Player of the Week. Cantue intercepted two passes and returned one 36 yards for a touchdown.
  • North Carolina A&T running back Tarik Cohen has been named the MEAC Offensive Player of the Week. Cohen scored two TDs and rushed for 98 yards on 10 carries. He also became the first freshman in North Carolina A&T history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
  • Howard defensive back Cameron Alston was named the MEAC Defensive Player of the Week. Alston had seven solo tackles and intercepted a pass to help Howard defeat Texas Southern.
  • SBN Sports Network Black College Football Poll

    1. Winston-Salem State
    2. Bethune-Cookman
    3. South Carolina State
    4. Tennessee State
    5. Alcorn State
    6. Southern
    7. Virginia State
    8. Jackson State
    9. Alabama State
    10. Tuskegee

SWAC players have NFL draft opportunity

November, 6, 2013
When you think about some of the top NFL prospects from historically black colleges and universities, the SWAC has a bunch of players who could play on Sundays. These players could also hear their names called in the 2014 NFL draft to be held May 8-10.

A year ago, Terron Armstead, a terrific offensive tackle from Arkansas-Pine Bluff, was a third-round pick of the New Orleans Saints. Armstead has a great deal of potential and should have a solid NFL career.

Of course, when you talk about great players from the SWAC who made it to next level, the name Robert Mathis immediately comes to mind. Mathis was just a fifth-round pick coming out of Alabama A&M. Nevertheless, he is easily one of the best defensive players in the NFL. Mathis, a defensive end for the Indianapolis Colts, leads the NFL in sacks with 11.5 this season. In 11 seasons, Mathis has been to five Pro Bowls and two Super Bowls.

There’s a good possibility that some of the following players could be drafted in the spring. If not, they could find their way onto an NFL roster as an undrafted free agent. The SWAC has some quality players on both sides of the ball.


Arnold Walker, RB
Alcorn State
5-foor-11, 225 pounds

Walker has the ability to turn the corner with good speed. He runs well between the tackles. He has been a huge part of Alcorn State’s offense. Walker has picked up 974 yards and should go over the 1,000-yard mark this season. He averages 5.3 yards a carry. Walker has no trouble finding the end zone. He’s scored 12 touchdowns this season.

Deandre Cooper, WR
Prairie View A&M
6-3, 215 pounds

The NFL loves big receivers who can catch and run. That’s why Deandre Cooper is such a great prospect. He can do all those things and more. Cooper can go up and make big catches in traffic. He has 64 receptions for 791 yards and seven touchdowns. He averages 12.5 yards a reception.
[+] EnlargeArnold Walker
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisAlcorn State running back Arnold Walker has 974 yards on the season.
Lee Doss, WR
6-2, 180 pounds

Doss has a great pair of hands. He knows how to get open. When Southern needs a big third-down catch, he’s always there. Doss has 59 receptions for 869 yards and six touchdowns. He averages 14.7 yards a reception.

Zachary Pendleton, WR
Jackson State
6-3, 190 pounds

Pendleton is truly a big-play receiver. He’s big and fast. He has good moves in the open field. He’s a threat to score whenever he makes a reception in the open field. He has 33 catches for 692 yards and eight touchdowns. He averages 21 yards a reception, which is really big time.


Jer-ryan Harris, LB
Arkansas-Pine Bluff
6-1, 220 pounds

Harris is always there. He knows how to make plays. He has good size and speed to play linebacker at the next level. He has 51 solo tackles. His 97 total tackles lead the SWAC. Harris can really play the run.

Raheem Cardwell, LB
Prairie View A&M
6-2, 225 pounds

Cardwell has great size and strength to play some inside linebacker in the pros. He does a good job of following the play. Cardwell comes up very quickly to fill the gaps and stop the run. He has 48 solo and 84 total tackles.

Leland Baker, LB
Alabama State
6-0, 200 pounds

Baker is one of those playmaking linebackers. He’s all over the field. He can drop back in the pass coverage and stop the run. Baker has 45 solo and 77 total tackles. He also has six sacks.

Steve Orisakwe, LB
Grambling State
5-11, 225 pounds

Orisakwe has been one of the Grambling State’s top defensive players. He’s always around the football. He has great anticipation. Orisakwe has 40 solo and 80 total tackles.


  • Grambling State quarterback Johnathan Williams has been named the SWAC Offensive Player of the Week. Williams accounted for seven touchdowns to lead Grambling State to its first win of the season over Mississippi Valley State. The Tigers ended a 15-game skid and a 12-game losing streak in the SWAC. Williams picked 319 of the G-Men’s 407 total yards, tossing five touchdowns and running for two scores.

  • Texas Southern cornerback Brandon Thomas was selected as the SWAC Defensive Player of the Week. Although Texas Southern lost to Southern, 31-24, Thomas led all defenders with 13 total and eight solo tackles. He also had 3.5 tackles for a loss, an interception, a fumble recovery and two pass breakups.

  • South Carolina State quarterback Richard Cue was chosen as the MEAC Offensive Player of the Week. Cue completed 15 of 25 passes for 163 yards and four touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ 45-9 win over Savannah State. He also picked 128 yards on the ground and scored twice.

  • North Carolina Central linebacker Tazmon Foster was selected as the MEAC Defensive Player of the Week. Foster had a career high 18 tackles, 12 solo, including two for a loss, with one sack against Bethune-Cookman.
  • SBN Sports Network Black College Football Poll

    1. Bethune-Cookman
    2. Winston-Salem State
    3. Jackson State
    4. South Carolina State
    5. Alabama State
    6. Tennessee State
    7.8. Virginia State
    9. Prairie View A&M
    10. Alcorn State

    Grambling State preparing to play again

    October, 23, 2013
    PM ET
    After a week of upheaval that brought national attention, Grambling State players ended their protest after talking to former head coach Doug Williams, who recommended the players, “Go out there and play football.” As such, Grambling State will host Texas Southern on Saturday at Robinson Stadium.

    According to a statement on Monday, senior safety and team spokesperson Naquan Smith said the players spoke to a several people, including Williams, who put them in touch with Jim Bernhard, a businessman in Baton Rouge, La. Smith said Bernhard explained to the players that he has their “best intentions at heart and that he would ensure we had updated facilities, but we had to agree to being back practicing Monday and finish the remainder of the season.”

    According to the statement, the team will play, but “… we have not forgotten the situation and how we’ve gotten here.”

    [+] EnlargeD.J. Williams
    Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty ImagesQuarterback D.J. Williams has thrown nine touchdowns for Grambling State this season.
    Last week tensions were really high as Grambling State refused to travel to Jackson State. The game was ruled a forfeit. The Tigers (0-5 SWAC, 0-8 overall) have gone through a lot this season. The players will actually be playing for their third coach of the season against Texas Southern (1-5 SWAC, 1-6 overall).

    Williams, a Grambling legend, was let go after the second game of the season. George Ragsdale took over as the interim head coach. Ragsdale was reassigned to within the school’s athletic department last Thursday and Dennis “Dirt” Winston replaced him. Winston has to try to pick up the pieces and get the Tigers ready to play Texas Southern.

    “We’re going to put everything behind us,” Winston said. “The young men came here to play football. This week we’re really concentrating on Texas Southern, moving forward and playing football.”

    Winston has quite a challenge ahead of him with all that has happened over the past few days. Actually, it’s been a pretty rough stretch for Grambling State, which is one of black college football’s most-storied programs. In 2011, the Tigers won the SWAC championship. However, Grambling State really struggled last year, posting a 1-10 record.

    Offensively, the G-Men are led by junior quarterback D.J. Williams (Doug Williams’ son), who has completed 101 of 222 passes for 1,149 yards with nine touchdowns and six interceptions. His big target is junior wide receiver Chester Rogers, who has 38 receptions for 516 yards and four touchdowns. Freshman running back Jestin Kelly is the team’s leading rusher. Kelly has 81 carries for 411 yards and two TDs.

    On defense, the Tigers’ bright spots have been senior linebacker Steve Orisakwe (37 solo, 69 total tackles), junior linebacker Aaron Breed (31 solo, 58 total tackles) and sophomore cornerback Nicholas Peoples (37 solo, 58 total tackles, two sacks and two interceptions).

    “I think our guys are very focused,” Winston said. “Right now, things are pretty much behind them. They’ve made their statement. Now, we’re moving forward.”

    • The Black College Football Hall of Fame announced its seven newest members. The Class of 2014 includes Robert Brazile (Jackson State), Leroy Kelly (Morgan State), John Stallworth (Alabama A&M), Michael Strahan (Texas Southern), Willie Totten (Mississippi Valley State), Doug Wilkerson (North Carolina Central) as player inductees and Marino Casem (Alcorn State) as a coach inductee.

    The inductees were selected from a list of 25 finalists who had been determined earlier by the Black College Football Hall of Fame selection committee. The committee is comprised of black college sportswriters, analysts and commentators. The inductees will be honored at the fifth annual enshrinement ceremony, presented by the Atlanta Falcons, on March 1, 2014. The event will take place at the Loews Hotel in Atlanta in conjunction with Black College Football weekend.

    • Texas Southern quarterback Homer Causey was named the SWAC Offensive Player of the Week. Causey led Texas Southern in passing and rushing in a 20-13 loss to Alcorn State. He completed 17 of 32 passes for 226 yards while rushing for 110 yards on 15 carries.

    • Texas Southern linebacker Damon Watkins was selected as the SWAC Defensive Player of the Week. Watkins had six tackles, two for loss, and a sack. He also forced and recovered a fumble.

    • Hampton wide receiver Jorrian Washington was chosen as the MEAC Offensive Player of the Week. Washington carried the ball 23 times for 119 yards with a touchdown in the Pirates’ 27-17 win over Norfolk State.

    • Morgan State safety Paul Eatman was named the MEAC Defensive Player of the Week. Eatman had two interceptions in the Bears’ 34-22 win over North Carolina Central. He also had five solo tackles.

    SBN Sports Network Black College Football Poll

    1. Bethune-Cookman
    2. Tennessee State
    3. South Carolina State
    4. Winston-Salem State
    5. Jackson State
    6. Alabama State
    7. Tuskegee
    8. Prairie View A&M
    9. Alcorn State
    10. Virginia State

    Associated Press contributed to this story

    NFL prospects among HBCU playmakers

    October, 9, 2013
    PM ET
    NFL scouts have been watching a lot of top Division I-A quarterbacks such as Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Clemson Tajh Boyd. However, there are some pretty good NFL prospects in black college football as well.

    The MEAC has a host of quality players capable of playing on Sundays. These players should get invited to the NFL combine as well as to some of the postseason college football all-star games.

    If you are not familiar with the some of the great players who have come out of the MEAC over the years, the list includes Indianapolis Colts S Antoine Bethea (Howard), Dallas Cowboys LB Justin Durant (Hampton) and New Orleans Saints S Rafael Bush (South Carolina State).

    The NFL draft is several months away, but these players could be selected based on their play so far. If not, they could find their way onto NFL rosters as undrafted free agents.


    [+] EnlargeRolandan Finch
    Courtesy of Mark SuttonNorfolk State RB Rolandan Finch leads the MEAC in rushing.
    Rolandan Finch, RB
    Norfolk State
    5-foot-10, 215 pounds

    Finch has the ability to run between the tackles. He has enough speed to get to the edge. Last week, he had a terrific game against Savannah State. Finch rushed for 134 yards on 23 carries. He currently leads the MEAC is rushing with 403 yards.

    Isidore Jackson, RB
    5-10, 205 pounds

    Jackson is one of the most exciting players in the MEAC. He has the speed to turn a 2-yard gain into an 80-yard touchdown run. Jackson was the preseason MEAC Offensive Player of the Year. In addition, he can catch the football coming out of the backfield.

    Alex Monroe, OT
    6-5, 305 pounds

    Monroe is a good run- and pass-blocker. He has good strength and power. He moves his feet extremely well. He knows how to open those gaping holes to help the Wildcats’ running attack. His pass-blocking skills have Bethune-Cookman’s passing game in high gear. Monroe has the size and experience to play at the next level.

    Tyler McDonald, WR
    South Carolina State
    6-3, 190 pounds

    McDonald is a big-play wide receiver. He leads the MEAC in receiving yards. McDonald averages 31.5 yards a catch. He has 17 receptions for 536 yards and five touchdowns. He has good size and speed. McDonald can run the deep routes. In a 52-13 loss to Clemson earlier this season, he caught two touchdown passes of 63 and 51 yards.


    Tazmon Foster, LB
    North Carolina Central
    5-10, 215 pounds

    Foster is always around the football. He plays the run very well. He does a great job of coming up and stopping the sweeps for short gains. He plays with good anticipation. Foster has 30 solo and 58 total tackles.

    Joe Thomas, LB
    South Carolina State
    6-0, 230 pounds

    Thomas is one of the best all-around defensive players in the MEAC. He knows how to pick his spots in terms of rushing the passer. Thomas has three sacks this season. He’s a real playmaking linebacker. He has 47 solo and 62 total tackles.

    Delbert Tyler, LB
    5-11, 225 pounds

    Tyler has been all over the field for Hampton. The Pirates linebacker knows how to close on the football. He’s made a lot of plays with his speed and tackling ability. He has 23 solo and 54 total tackles.

    Jarkevis Fields, LB
    6-0, 230 pounds

    Fields has the ability to rush the passer and play the run and the pass. He’s been a big reason why Bethune-Cookman has the league’s best defensive team. Fields has good range and quickness.


    • Morgan State quarterback Seth Higgins was named the MEAC Offensive Player of the Week. Higgins completed 12 of 20 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown as the Bears posted a 34-21 win over Florida A&M. He also rushed for a career-high 102 yards on 17 carries while scoring a touchdown.

    • Morgan State linebacker Cody Acker was selected as the MEAC Defensive Player of the Week. Acker returned an interception 19 yards for a touchdown in Morgan State’s win over Florida A&M.

    • Jackson State running back Tommy Gooden was named the SWAC Offensive Player of the Week. Gooden had a career-high 214 rushing yards and four touchdowns in JSU’s 42-33 victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

    • Mississippi Valley State defensive back Terrance Hudson was chosen as the SWAC Defensive Player of the Week. Hudson was playing his second game as defensive back after playing wide receiver picked up six tackles (two solo) and two interceptions in MVSU’s 28-9 win over Alabama A&M.

    SBN Sports Network Black College Football Poll

    1. Bethune-Cookman
    2. Tennessee State
    3. South Carolina State
    4. Winston-Salem State
    5. North Carolina A&T
    6. Prairie View A&M
    7. Jackson State
    8. Alabama State
    9. Tuskegee
    10. North Carolina Central

    Freshman CB a leader in NCCU's secondary

    September, 25, 2013
    PM ET
    Freshman cornerback Michael Jones has shown an ability to play some terrific football in the North Carolina Central secondary. Jones, a 5-foot-9, 175-pounder from Baltimore is establishing himself as not only one of the bright young players in the MEAC, but across the country.

    Although NCCU (2-2) dropped a 35-17 decision to Towson on Saturday, Jones was able to pick up his fourth interception of the season. That’s pretty impressive. His four picks are tied for the FCS lead.

    [+] EnlargeMichael Jones
    Courtesy of North Carolina Central sportsCornerback Michael Jones earned MEAC Rookie of the Week after NCCU's Week 3 win.
    A week ago, he received MEAC Rookie of the Week honors for his playmaking skills after leading NCCU to a 40-13 win over Charlotte. Jones intercepted two passes that resulted in a pair of Eagles touchdowns. In addition, he had four tackles, three of them solo and one for loss, and a pass breakup. In Week 2, Jones intercepted a pass in the second overtime to help NCCU edge St. Augustine’s.

    His skills aren't limited to covering receivers. Jones can play the run as well. He knows how to come up and turn those running plays inside where his linebackers can make plays. Jones has nine solo and 16 total tackles this season.

    The Eagles interim head coach, Dwayne Foster, has watched the true freshman develop this season. Foster said he feels Jones has been able to make a bigger impact than just with his athletic talent. That’s only part of his game. Jones has done a great job utilizing the fundamentals as well.

    “He’s been in the right place and has great technique,” Foster said. “He has great quickness and great instincts. He’ll come up and tackle you as well. He’s got some confidence. We want him to continue to get better. We’re excited about his play. He’s got a huge, huge upside.”

    There’s still plenty of football to be played this season, but Jones appears to be a solid candidate for the Jerry Rice Award, which annually goes to top FCS freshman of the year.

    North Carolina Central has a bye this week. The Eagles will travel to Washington, D.C., to play Howard at William Greene Stadium on Oct. 5 in their first MEAC game of the season.


    • South Carolina State wide receiver Caleb Davis has been named the MEAC Offensive Player of the Week. Davis caught five passes for 76 yards with two touchdowns to lead the Bulldogs to a 59-6 victory over Benedict College. Davis averaged 19 yards a catch.
    • North Carolina Central linebacker Tazmon Foster was selected MEAC Defensive Player of the Week. Foster had a game-high 17 tackles (eight solo) against No. 4 Towson, the most recorded by an Eagle in 10 years.
    • Southern wide receiver Lee Doss was selected as the SWAC Offensive Player of the Week. Doss had 10 receptions for 164 yards and a touchdown in the Jaguars' 17-7 victory over Mississippi Valley State. He was responsible for more than half of Southern’s total offense. He scored on a 65-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dray Joseph and had a 45-yard catch to set up the Jaguars’ first offensive touchdown of the game.
    • Alabama State linebacker Daerius Washington was named the SWAC Defensive Player of the Week. Washington had eight tackles and returned an interception 19 yards for a touchdown. His score late in the first half gave Alabama State a 28-7 lead. He helped lead the Hornets’ defense that held Grambling State to 12 rushing yards.
    SBN Sports Network Black College Football Poll

    1. Bethune-Cookman
    2. North Carolina A&T
    3. Tennessee State
    4. Winston-Salem State
    5. South Carolina State
    6. Prairie View A&M
    7. Tuskegee
    8. Jackson State
    9. Howard
    10. Florida A&M

    Pendleton shines in W.C. Gorden Classic

    September, 11, 2013
    PM ET
    It wasn’t a statement game. However, it was a big early-season matchup in the SWAC between Jackson State and Alabama State. Jackson State was able to pull off a huge 30-23 win in the W.C. Gorden Classic at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium in Jackson, Miss.

    ASU was the preseason favorite to win the SWAC Eastern Division, and it’s easy see why. The Hornets have an explosive running back in Isaiah Crowell, who happens to be one of the best in the country. Jackson State had to overcome a huge game from Crowell, who had 18 carries for 179 yards, including an 84-yard touchdown run.

    [+] EnlargeZachary Pendleton
    Charles A. Smith/Clarion-LedgerJackson State WR Zachary Pendleton scored SWEC Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors for his performance versus Alabama State.
    The Tigers look like they have a brilliant offensive player, too. Zachary Pendleton, Jackson State’s big-play wide receiver, had six catches for 177 yards while scoring two touchdowns. Pendleton leads the conference in receiving yards per catch. He averages 30.2 yards a reception.

    Tigers quarterback Clayton Moore completed 14 of 36 passes for 281 yards and had two touchdowns. In addition, Moore had 67 yards on 22 carries, including a 12-yard touchdown scamper. His ability to get the ball down the field to Pendleton makes the Tigers a dangerous team offensively.

    On defense, safety Cameron Loeffler is a real hitter. Loeffler covered plenty of ground against Alabama State. He had a career-high 15 tackles against the Hornets. Jackson State (1-1 overall, 1-0 SWAC) will travel to Memphis, Tenn., to face Tennessee State (1-1) on Saturday in the Southern Heritage Classic.

    TSU is coming off an impressive 27-7 victory over Florida A&M. Jackson State head coach Rick Comegy said he feels Tennessee State will be another good test for his team before they return to SWAC competition the following week against Texas Southern at home.

    “No doubt, they’re talented at a high level,” Comegy said. “It will tell me where we are. I would say it would tell me where we are as a football team if we could come out of there healthy and if we can make this run down the line.”

    A road win over Tennessee State should give Jackson State a lot of confidence that could take them a long way.


    • Pendleton and Crowell were named the SWAC Co-Offensive Players of the Week. Pendleton was also named the W.C. Gorden Classic Offensive MVP. Crowell tied a career-high with 18 carries while setting two career records. He rushed 179 yards, the most since his arrival to ASU and his 84-yard run was also a career high. He averaged 9.9 yards a carry during the game and now has 272 yards rushing on 29 carries over the first two games of the season.

    • Alabama State defensive tackle Derrick Billups was selected as the SWAC Defensive Player of the Week. Billups had a career high in tackles with 12 (four solo, eight assisted). He also had a sack, forced two fumbles, a quarterback hurry and a pass breakup.

    • Howard junior quarterback Greg McGhee was named the MEAC Offensive Player of the Week. McGhee completed 21 of 27 passes for 242 yards with three touchdowns in Howard’s 27-16 win over Morehouse. He also rushed for 54 yards on 10 carries to help Howard get its first win of the season.

    • North Carolina A&T’s senior linebacker D’Vonte Grant was chosen as the MEAC Defensive Player of the Week. Grant returned an interception 57 yards for a touchdown in the Aggies 24-21 upset win over Appalachian State. The score was his third career interception for a touchdown, tying a school record. He also had eight tackles, four solo, with one for a 2-yard loss.

    Boxtorow HBCU Football Media Top 10 Poll

    1. Bethune-Cookman
    2. Tennessee State
    3. Tuskegee
    4. North Carolina A&T
    5. Jackson State
    6. Winston-Salem State
    7. Howard
    8. Florida A&M
    9. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
    10. Alabama A&M

    MEAC/SWAC Challenge tops in FCS Week 1

    August, 28, 2013
    PM ET
    The ninth annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disney will feature Florida A&M and Mississippi Valley State on Sunday, Sept. 1 (11:45 a.m. ET on ESPN) at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando, Fla. This huge rivalry game between the two FCS historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) conferences will be the premier black college football game this weekend.

    Although the MEAC certainly has the advantage in regards to wins in this series with a 6-2 record, the game always has some big-time players to watch. And this year is no exception. The MEAC/SWAC Challenge has arguably two of the best players in HBCU football in Florida A&M quarterback Damien Fleming and Mississippi Valley State defensive lineman Robert Simpson.

    [+] EnlargeDamien Fleming
    Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesFAMU quarterback Damien Fleming threw for 2,157 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.

    Fleming has a bundle of talent. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound junior, was selected preseason MEAC Co-Offensive Player of the Year. A year ago, he displayed a strong passing arm throwing the ball down the field. Fleming completed 214 of 308 passes for 2,157 yards including 16 touchdowns to just five interceptions.

    He shows a lot of poise in the pocket. In last season’s 24-22 victory over Delaware State, he connected on 30 of 37 passes for 399 yards and three touchdowns. Fleming has a bright future.

    Simpson has played some great football for the Delta Devils. The 6-3, 267-pound senior was named to the Buck Buchanan Award watch list, an award annually given by The Sports Network to the best defensive player in FCS. Simpson has great quickness and strength up front.

    Simpson finished second in FCS with 22.5 tackles for loss. The All-SWAC standout had 59 total and 29 solo tackles. He also finished fourth in the conference with seven sacks. His ability to play the run and rush the passer makes him a solid NFL prospect. He should get an invitation to the NFL combine next year.

    In this HBCU classic, Fleming and Simpson give fans around the country a player to watch on both sides of the ball. Look for both players to be major playmakers in this game.

    • Head coaches Earl Holmes of FAMU and Karl Morgan of MVSU will bring some NFL experience to the sidelines at the MEAC/SWAC Challenge. Holmes played his college football for the Rattlers. He was a fourth-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1996. He played 10 seasons in the NFL at linebacker for the Steelers, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions.

    Morgan played his college football at UCLA. He was a great nose guard for the Bruins. He played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1984 to 1986. Morgan played for the Houston Oilers, too.

    • Fleming shared preseason conference player of the year honors with Isidore Jackson, Bethune-Cookman’s outstanding running back. The Wildcats are the favorites to win the MEAC this season. Jackson has a lot to do with that. He rushed for 1,069 yards on 191 carries while scoring 11 touchdowns. He averaged 5.6 yards a carry.

    • Speaking of running backs, Isaiah Crowell is an exciting runner for Alabama State. Crowell rushed for 843 yards on 159 carries last season. The 5-11, 190-pound junior, scored a league-leading 15 TDs last season. He was the SWAC Newcomer of the Year.