As a former college player, the thought of making it to the next level was always in the back of my mind. As I had success in my junior and senior years, I didn’t know what to expect at the end of my HBCU football playing days. It was the Spring of 1989, months after I had finished playing my last game in the Florida Classic. I was the FAMU MVP for the 1988 Florida Classic. Oddly, a scout from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was on the field watching me warm up for the game…unannounced. That was unnerving. He literally stood five yards from me watching my every move.
There was not an organized Pro Day like we have today. Back then, scouts would randomly come to the area and call the dorm floor (no pagers, cell phones, or emails at the time). Most requests came through the assistant head coach Walter Highsmith. I’d get a call at the dorm that went something like this, “Wilson, the Rams are here and they want to see you punt around 3:00.” The call probably would come in an hour or two before the performance time. Who knows if I had chips and a soda for lunch? Who knows if I stayed out late the night before, being a college kid? Who knows if my long snapper Terry Beauford was available? That’s just how it went back then.
I remember about four of those tryouts. The Rams, Redskins (Commanders), Seahawks, and Vikings all came through. It was the Vikings who finally gave me an opportunity. Former FAMU great Greg Coleman had one of the biggest kicking camps in the country at the time. I went to Greg’s camp, with the Viking’s tryout following the camp. It was cold in Minnesota. Unfortunately, the Minnesota Twins were playing in the dome, so my tryout was in the elements….WHEW! This Florida boy didn’t do well in that Minnesota cold and breeze coming off those lakes.
Fast forward to today, and fortunately, pro days at HBCUs have become major events. Watching Jackson State and FAMU have a complete setup for Pro Day does my heart good. Seeing both schools offer players from other schools a chance to come to their Pro Days is amazing as well.
FAMU allowed Edward Waters running back Tyler King and Albany State linebacker Stephan Pierre to compete in their pro day. FAMU accented this year by providing each player with custom workout gear, which accents why you go to an HBCU… because HBCUs care.
Having teammates cheer you on is big as well. They go hard for their teammates. This year JSU had the most scouts attend their pro day. FAMU placed second, a reverse order from last year. FAMU did however have a team general manager in Martin Mayhew of the Washington Commanders to come to take a personal look at Isaiah Land.
On pro days, the strength and conditioning coaches are the MVPs. They facilitate the measurements, skills tests, equipment, and personnel to make it easier for the scouts to test the athletes. The head coaches spend the day lobbying for their athletes. It’s a unified front to support the athletes.
The Pro Days were mapped out in advance. Players knew the exact date and time they were to perform their best and they all were ready.
The scouts are really into HBCU pro days. Keep in mind that recommending an athlete from a Power Five school is easy. They get more credit for bringing in a lesser-known player from an HBCU that can make the cut. Jackson State’s James Houston’s success gets a scout much more credit than it does a player from Alabama or Clemson.
I remember the blur of the days randomly working out for scouts. There was so much pressure in the unknown of just a couple hour’s warning, even though I tried my best to be ready for whatever. It’s great these guys have a solid opportunity to put on their best show for the scouts.