2023 Football

HBCU football sleeping giant finally ready to rise?

Johnson C. Smith is hoping a record number of scholarships and new facilities will help get it out of the CIAA cellar.

Johnson C. Smith looking to compete in the CIAA and beyond

The Johnson C. Smith football program has been around as long as HBCU football itself. Back on December 27, 1892 the school — then known as Biddle University — traveled up the road to Salisbury to take on Livingstone College for the first football contest between black colleges.

Despite being a part of the historic first HBCU football game and located in one of the largest HBCU hubs in the country, Johnson C. Smith football has largely been an afterthought for much of the following 130 years. 

The private school located on the fringes of downtown Charlotte has never been a powerhouse football program as it has just one CIAA title to show for all of the games it has played — and that happened in 1969. The more recent history follows suit. JCSU has won 56 games since 2005 for an average of 3.2 wins per season. 

Flowers knows JCSU’s tortured history well having played quarterback at Smith back in the 1990s. He’s hoping to change things around, and he’s got a few things working in his favor. 

Johnson C Smith, HBCU
Johnson C. Smith University football players warm up with a view of the city of Charlotte behind them. (Wali Pitt/HBCU Gameday photo)

“The plan is to fund football — fund athletics even more than what it has been. Very, very proud to say, Johnson C. Smith University — we have 36 scholarships for the first time in school history and very proud to say we’ll be at nine full-time coaches for the first time in school history,” Flowers said at CIAA Media Day. “The university has definitely put an emphasis on athletics and how it can help build the school.”

That’s something that most CIAA programs, and many HBCU Division II schools overall, cannot say. But scholarship numbers are just a part of the Flowers formula to make JCSU football relevant beyond Beaties Ford Rd. The other part of the equation is new and upgraded facilities. 

“Proud to say we have a new turf field, we have a new weight room, we have a new locker room coming in,” Flowers said. “These are things that we’re not saying they’re going to come in two to three years. The field is done now. The weight room will be done in about a month and the locker room.” 

Flowers and JCSU are banking that better facilities and more scholarship money will help turn things around. That combination is super important in North Carolina where there are 14 Division II football programs — including six other CIAA schools.

“We can say that we have something similar to Fayetteville State, schools like Lenoir-Rhyne and Wingate,” Flowers said. “Those are schools that Johnson C. Smith could never win recruiting battles with, and a lot of times it came to facilities. We can say right now we have some young men from Lenoir-Rhyne that are on our roster. We’re winning some recruiting battles in the portal and with high school young men and it has to do with the commitment our university has made to athletics.”

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HBCU football sleeping giant finally ready to rise?
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