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Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Updated: August 31, 10:51 AM ET
Challenge features standout defenders

By Donald Hunt
Special to ESPN.com

The seventh annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disney between Bethune-Cookman and Prairie View A&M should be quite an HBCU battle on Sept. 4 (ESPN, noon ET) at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando, Fla. These two schools feature some terrific players, but the most talented players will be on the defensive side of the ball.

In fact, this black college classic boasts two of the best defensive players in the FCS. Bethune-Cookman's playmaking linebacker Ryan Lewis was chosen as the MEAC's preseason defensive player of the year, while Prairie View A&M's quick-footed cornerback Moses Ellis was selected as the SWAC's preseason defensive player of the year.

Both players have also received All-America recognition, which shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who follows HBCU football. Lewis was a big reason why Bethune-Cookman grabbed a share of the MEAC championship along with South Carolina State and Florida A&M last season. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior led the Wildcats with 81 total tackles. He also had five sacks and four interceptions, and one of them was returned 69 yards for a touchdown.

Lewis is literally all over the field. He does a great job of following the play and plays extremely well against the run. He has the speed to cover running backs and tight ends, and he gives Wildcats head coach Brian Jenkins a solid all-around player.

Although Lewis can do so many things on the field, he doesn't have to carry the team on his shoulders. He has the benefit of playing with two great players in defensive end Ryan Davis and defensive back Michael Williams. Davis led the team with 6.5 sacks last season and also had 57 total and 31 solo tackles. Williams was tops with six interceptions. He had 44 total and 25 solo tackles.

Ellis has brought a lot of excitement to the Prairie View A&M defense, leading the SWAC and FCS with eight interceptions last season and showcasing good closing speed. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound senior is one of the smallest defensive backs in the conference. Nevertheless, he knows how to get it done. Ellis is on the preseason watch list for the Buck Buchanan Award, given annually to the FCS' best defensive player. He has been nothing but trouble for opposing quarterbacks.

Ellis is similar to Lewis in that he won't have to do it alone. He has plenty of help in the secondary with defensive back JohnMark Henderson (25 tackles and two pass breakups) and linebacker Raheem Cardwell (56 total tackles, one interception and two fumble recoveries). Together they are three dependable corners for first-year head coach Heishma Northern.

Northern took over as Prairie View A&M's coach after Henry Frazier left to become the head coach at North Carolina Central during the offseason. Northern previously served as the Panthers' defensive coordinator for six seasons, including Prairie View A&M's 2009 SWAC championship campaign and last year's 7-4 season.

Moreover, Northern has watched Ellis develop over the years. There aren't many players who are better at his position.

This game is for bragging rights in HBCU football. There's no question about that. The history is there. It's also safe to say with players such as Ryan Lewis and Moses Ellis, this game could be won at the defensive end.

HBCU Notes

Top Players in the MEAC, SWAC and HBCU

Justin Wilson, WR, Delaware State, Jr.
Ryan Lewis, LB, Bethune-Cookman, Sr.
Keith Pough, LB, Howard, Jr.
Mike Mayhew, RB, North Carolina A&T, Sr.
Dominique Ellis, DB, South Carolina State, Sr.
Casey Therriault, QB, Jackson State, Sr. Moses Ellis, DB, Prairie View A&M, Sr.
Marquis Jackson, DL, Texas Southern, Jr.
Cliff Exama, LB, Grambling State, Sr.
Marcus Wright, RB, Texas Southern, Sr.
Marcus Wright, RB, Texas Southern, Sr.

Boxtorow.Com/BASN FCS HBCU Coaches Top 10 Football Poll

1. Bethune-Cookman
2. South Carolina State
3. Texas Southern
4. Florida A&M
5. Grambling State
6. Jackson State
7. Prairie View A&M
8. Alabama State
9. Hampton
10. Norfolk State

Heritage Sports Radio Network (HSRN) Top 10 Preseason Poll Division I-FCS

1. Bethune-Cookman
2. South Carolina State
3. Florida A&M
4. Jackson State
5. Grambling State
6. Texas Southern
7. Hampton
8. Alabama State
9. Prairie View A&M
10. Norfolk State

SBN Sports Network

1. South Carolina State
2. Albany State
3. Florida A&M
4. Grambling State
5. Tuskegee
6. Bethune-Cookman
7. Jackson State
8. Shaw
9. Alcorn State
10. Texas Southern

Week 1 Schedule

Sept. 1

• Buddy Pough and South Carolina State will visit Central Michigan. The Bulldogs are heavy contenders to win the MEAC.

• Rutgers will host North Carolina Central in Piscataway, N.J. Henry Frazier, the Eagles' new head coach, will have his hands full with the Scarlet Knights in the opener.

Sept. 3

• Hampton will battle Alabama A&M in the Chicago Classic. Hampton QB David Legree threw for 1,679 yards and nine touchdowns last season.

• Howard will visit Eastern Michigan. Gary "The Flea" Harrell will make his debut as Howard's head coach.

• Delaware State will face VMI in Lexington, Va. The Hornets have a great running back in Jaashawn Jones.

• Rod Broadway will make his debut for North Carolina A&T as it faces Virginia University of Lynchburg on the road.

• Morgan State and Towson will clash in a real backyard rivalry at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Baltimore.

• Norfolk State will take on Division II Virginia State in the Labor Day Classic at Dick Price Stadium in Norfolk, Va.

• Florida A&M and Savannah State will open against some tough Division II opponents. FAMU will host Fort Valley State. The Wildcats were 8-2 and played in the Pioneer Bowl. Savannah State will visit Albany State, which had an 11-1 record a year ago. Albany State is ranked 10th in the D2Football.com poll.

• Concordia-Selma will travel to Jackson State. Tigers QB Casey Therriault will be the player to watch in this one.

• Mississippi Valley State will entertain Alabama State. ASU cornerback Kejuan Riley can guard any receiver in the SWAC.

• Langston and Arkansas-Pine Bluff will hook up in the Delta Classic 4 Literacy at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, Ark.

• Grambling State battles Alcorn State in the Port City Classic at Independence Stadium in Shreveport, La. GSU head coach Doug Williams will start his son D.J. Williams at quarterback. Tigers offensive tackle Sanford Banks is one of the best offensive linemen in the country.

• Southern will play Tennessee State in the John Merritt Classic in Nashville, Tenn.

• Mark your calendar for another classic. On Saturday, Sept. 10, Howard and Division II Morehouse, two legendary HBCUs, will face each other in the Nation's Football Classic. The game will be played at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Howard WR Willie Carter and linebacker Keith Pough are both outstanding players.

Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune. His HBCU Notebook on ESPN.com can be found here. Got a story idea for Hunt? E-mail him at dhunt37261@aol.com.