2022 Football

HBCU football stars getting opportunities at NFLPA Collegiate Bowl

At 6-6, 260 pounds, Bethune-Cookman tight end Kemari Averett has all the measurables.

Five HBCU football standouts are getting a chance to show their stuff this week before NFL scouts at the 13th NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. 

The week-long affair, hosted by the NFL Player’s Association, culminates with Saturday’s game played at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Ca. The NFL Network is televising the game live at 6 p.m. 

HBCU football players in the house

Virginia State running back Darius Hagans, Bethune-Cookman tight end Kemari Averett and Alabama State cornerback Keenan Isaac will be playing for the American Team. Former NFL head coach Jeff Fisher is leading the American team. 

Fort Valley State running back Emanuel Wilson and Jackson State defensive back Isaiah Bolden are on the National Team. Former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL great Eddie George, the head coach of the Tennessee State Tigers, will coach the National team.

The HBCU stars are among 120 players from around the country on hand for the annual affair.

The week’s activities

The players reported on Sunday and have been involved in intense workouts that started Monday.

Carl Francis is director of communications and strategic partnerships for the NFLPA. He said 222 NFL scouts have been there over the past week.

But the players are also being drilled on other matters key to playing and staying in the NFL

“One of the things we’ve always tried to do is create an overall experiences for our players,” Francis said. “We want to share with them real-life skill sets that they’re going to encounter when they get in the NFL.” He said those skills include financial education and personal engagement. “It’s about learning how to be a professional on and off the field.”

“That’s the bridge that they must face,” Francis said. “Coming from being a college player to a professional athlete is learning how to be a professional at all times. It’s about utilizing your time wisely while you’re performing on the field. And utilizing that opportunity to engage and connect with the ecosystem of resources that the NFLPA has to offer.”

Francis’s HBCU football roots

Getting HBCU players involved in the game is “a no-brainer,” for Francis. “One-hundred-and-nine percent,” he added.

“I would not allow this game to be anywhere near what it is without having a strong contingent of HBCU players,” Francis said.

Francis is an HBCU product himself. He played at Virginia Union for coaching great Joe Taylor. Former NC A&T and Chicago Bears’ running back Tarik Cohen and former Albany State and current Indianapolis Colts’ defensive tackle Grover Stewart are alums of the game. They are among noted Collegiate Bowl alumni featured on the game’s website.

30 players from the 2022 NFLPA Collegiate Bowl went in the 2022 NFL Draft, Francis said.

Darius Hagans speaks

Hagans, a 6-foot, 210-pounder from Chesapeaker, Va., was one of eight HBCU running backs to top 1,000 rushing yards in the 2022 season. He finished second in the CIAA with 1,012 yards on 159 carries. The all-CIAA first teamer averaged 5.4 yards per carry, scored six rushing touchdowns and caught 17 passes for 134 yards.

He was the Trojans’ featured back.

Hagans told HBCUGameday Thursday that he’s learning a lot and looks forward to showing off his skills in Saturday’s game.

“It’s going well,” Hagans said. “It’s been a great week so far. I feel I’ve learned a lot of information that I haven’t heard from a lot of seasoned players in the game – current NFL players and former NFL players. It’s been a really enlightening experience.”

Hagans participated Thursday in ‘NFLPA University.’ Washington Commanders’ running back Brian Robinson Jr. and others, gave the players advice. Robinson emphasized consistency. “That’s one thing that stuck with me,” Hagans said.

Hagans displaying his versatility

Hagans spent the week showing his versatility and flexibility, position wise.

“I’ve done a few returns, showing I can catch punts and kick returns. I have been on just about every special team. I’ve shown I can block, and be physical and get off blocks on special teams.

“When it comes to running back, I’ve shown I have explosive speed, being able to catch out of the backfield and just really showing my talents in different ways on and off the field and in interviews – making sure I shake hands with all these legendary guys out here. And just show everybody what kind of an athlete I am.”

Isaac’s locker is next to Hagans. They’ve had small conversations.

“This is a really humbling experience and we’re all glad to be here and make it from where we come from. I’m really just proud of myself and what I’ve accomplished so far and just continuing to work hard to get to the next level.”

HBCU football: Isaac & Averett not a law firm

Isaac has prototypical size for a defensive back at 6-3, 190 pounds. He compares favorably to former Fayetteville State defensive back Joshua Williams who was the first HBCU player taken in the 2022 Draft. Williams, who went to the Kansas City Chiefs in the fourth round, played in 17 games with four starts this season. Isaac, who hails from Tampa, Fla. posted 39 tackles this season for the Hornets with two interceptions and eight pass break-ups.

At an imposing 6-6, 260 pounds, Averett is a special talent. He began his career as a highly touted prospect at Louisville before moving to B-CU. In the 2021 season he had 37 catches for 686 yards (18.5 ypc.) and six TDs. This season he hauled in 39 passes for 445 yards and 7 TDs to lead all SWAC players at the position and earn first team all-conference honors.

Wilson & Bolden

Emanuel Wilson had perhaps the best season of the quintet.

Wilson transferred to FVSU after leading the CIAA in rushing as a freshman at Johnson C. Smith. Wilson topped the SIAC with 1,371 rushing yards in 2022. He finished behind only Virginia Union’s Jada Byers’ 1,920 yards among HBCU runners. His 17 rushing touchdowns were also second to Byers (19) as were his 102 points (to Byers’ 128).

Fort Valley State running back Emanuel Wilson won two SIAC postseason awards in 2022.

Wilson averaged 6.6 yards per carry and 137.1 yards per game. The 6-1, 220-pound Charlotte, NC native earned first team all-SIAC. He was also named the league’s overall player of the year and offensive player of the year. Wilston’s head coach at FVSU, Shawn Gibbs, tutored Tarik Cohen at NC A&T. Gibbs said Wilson is the “real deal.”

Bolden was a key member of head coach Deion Sanders’ defensive backfield at Jackson State. The 6-2, 205 pound Tampa, Florida native racked up 44 total tackles, 30 solos with seven pass break-ups. He was named second team all-SWAC.

The Florida State transfer also excelled as a kick returner. In 2021, he showed some of his coach’s return ability. He averaged a whopping 36.9 yards per return and brought two kicks back for TDs.  



HBCU football stars getting opportunities at NFLPA Collegiate Bowl
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


To Top