Josh Straughan, Stillman College
We’ve been doing this list for three years, and Straughan has been on it every year. Now headed into his senior season, he’s at the top thanks to a big junior season. Straughan entered the 2014 season looking to build on a sophomore season that was cut short by a knee injury. He made up for lost time last year, throwing for 2,243 yards, completing 58 percent of his passes while throwing for 26 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.
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Drew Powell, Livingstone
Like Straughan, we’ve been following Powell since his sophomore season. Powell was a force to be reckoned with last season, both with his arms and feet. Powell produced over 3,100 yards of offense (2,241 yards through the air and 881 on the ground) and produced 33 touchdowns (26 passing, 7 rushing) as Livingstone had its best season in over a decade. Powell’s only problem was turnovers, specifically fumbles. He fumbled 19 times, losing 11 of them. Combine that total with his 14 interceptions and he was almost as likely to make a big play for his opponents as he was for his own team.
Tarian Ayers, Virginia State
Ayers is a first-time addition to this list. He took over at quarterback for a Virginia State team that had just come off a CIAA Northern Division Title and had a lot to prove after being barred from the playoffs following the Rudy Johnson incident the previous year.
Ayers led the team to another Northern Division title by playing solid football in 2015. He led the CIAA in completions (186), attempts (323) and finished second in yards (2,132) and touchdowns (15). He missed the CIAA Championship Game due to a DUI arrest, but redshirt freshman Niko Johnson took care of business and helped bring the title home. Ayers then picked up where he left off, leading Virginia State to its first-ever playoff victory against LIU Post.
With two years of eligibility left, there could be a lot of improvement yet to come.
Kenneth Graham, Virginia Union
While it didn’t get the recognition of Morgan State or Grambling, Virginia Union bounced back in a big way last season. Likewise, Kenneth Graham didn’t get as much attention as many other quarterbacks, but he played a big role in the program’s resurgence.
VUU went on a 5-0 run after a 1-1 start, and Graham played very well during that stretch, throwing 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Unfortunately for Graham, injuries struck against Bowie State, and the team suffered without him, going 1-2 over the last two games.
If he returns in good health, Graham will be one of the CIAA’s best quarterbacks and VUU will be a legitimate threat for the CIAA title.
Cyril Davis, St. Aug
Last season was a tough one for St. Aug, but Davis was a bright spot. The young man from Orangeburg put together a solid season as a redshirt freshman, throwing for 11 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He completed better than 50 percent of his passes in every game that he started, helping take some of the pressure off of running back Roderick Davenport. Look for him to get better as a sophomore, which could help St. Aug pull of an upset or two in 2015.
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The top five return plays of the 2016 HBCU football season.
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Alabama State and Alcorn State will play under the lights on Oct. 5.