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HBCU Football

HBCU football stars on the rise

Top players this season may be in the NFL in 2017

South Carolina State University defensive tackle Javon Hargrave was the first black college football player taken in April’s NFL draft. Hargrave, a 6-foot-1, 309-pounder, was a third-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Defensive Player of the Year was clearly one of the best players in the country last season from a historically black college or university.

Hargrave’s teammate, tight end Temarrick Hemingway, was a sixth-round pick of the Los Angeles Rams. North Carolina Central University defensive back Ryan Smith was a fourth-round selection of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In taking an early look ahead to this season, there are some very talented HBCU prospects who have the potential to play on Sundays like so many other black college football standouts such as Terron Armstead (New Orleans Saints, University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff), Chris Baker (Washington Redskins, Hampton University), Antoine Bethea (San Francisco 49ers, Howard University), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (New York Giants, Tennessee State University) and others.

The No. 1 HBCU prospect looks to be North Carolina A&T State University running back Tarik Cohen, and it’s hard to argue with all his accomplishments on the gridiron. At 5-foot-7 and 173 pounds, Cohen is a little man with big-game talent. The Aggies’ senior rusher opened a lot of eyes while leading NC A&T State to an exciting 41-34 victory over Alcorn State University in the inaugural Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl on national television. Cohen put on quite a show, rushing for 295 yards while scoring three touchdowns against the Braves.

He played lights-out throughout his career. Cohen has been the MEAC Offensive Player of the Year the last two seasons. The Aggies’ All-American is coming off a brilliant year during which he rushed for 1,543 yards and tallied 15 touchdowns. He also broke the school’s career rushing record (4,031 yards). Cohen was recently named the preseason MEAC Offensive Player of the Year.

A year ago, Cohen received national attention for a video on SportsCenter, in which he caught a football after doing a backflip. He should have a lot of NFL scouts flipping over his ability to run and catch the ball. Cohen is one of the best running backs in all of college football.

other top HBCU prospects for 2017 NFL draft:

Kourtney Berry, LB, Alabama State University, 6-feet, 215 pounds, senior

Berry has a real nose for the football. He plays the run extremely well. Berry led the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) with 130 total tackles last season, averaging 11.8 tackles a game. He has the speed to cover running backs and tight ends in pass coverage. Berry, an All-American, was named the preseason SWAC Defensive Player of the Year for the third consecutive year.

Guy Stallworth, DB, Grambling State University, 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, senior

Stallworth is a great all-around defensive back. He’s a good open-field tackler. He knows how to shut down the ground attack from the secondary. He has the size and quickness to run with most receivers. Stallworth had 101 total and 65 solo tackles along with three interceptions last season.

Javancy Jones, LB/DE, Jackson State University, 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, senior

Jones is a multitalented player who has played linebacker and defensive end. He will be an outside linebacker at the next level. Jones is a playmaking linebacker with great anticipation. He can also rush the passer. Last season, Jones had 91 total and 39 solo tackles along with an impressive nine sacks.

Twarn Mixson, WR, Hampton University, 5-foot-10, 166 pounds, senior

Mixson was the MEAC’s leading receiver last season. He had 59 receptions for 1,027 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 17.4 yards a catch. Mixson has a great pair of hands. He catches everything that’s thrown in his direction. Mixson knows how to find the spots in zone defenses.

Detonio Dade, OL, Alcorn State University, 6-foot-3, 300 pounds, senior

Dade could play guard or tackle in the NFL. He can open up those gaping holes for the Alcorn State running game. He does a good job with his pass blocking. The Braves have a high-scoring offense with quarterback Lenorris Footman and wide receiver Marquis Warford. Dade’s blocking gives Footman and Warford plenty of room to operate.

Trey Green, QB, Prairie View A&M University, 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, senior

Green can make all the throws. He’s comfortable throwing from the pocket, but he can step up in the pocket and make plays with his arms and legs. Green completed 58.8 percent of his passes last season and threw for 2,614 yards with 21 touchdowns and just three interceptions.

Lenard Tillery, RB, Southern University, 5-foot-10, 186 pounds, senior

Tillery can really explode between the tackles. He hits the holes quickly. He has good moves in the open field. Tillery was the SWAC’s leading rusher last season. He had 197 carries for 1,211 yards while scoring 14 touchdowns and averaging 6.1 yards a carry. Tillery was named the preseason SWAC Offensive Player of the Year.

Javarius Leamon, OL, South Carolina State University, 6-foot-7, 310 pounds, senior

Leamon is one of the biggest offensive linemen in the country. He has great range and length up front. He can move his feet very well. Leamon was a preseason first-team All-MEAC selection this season.

Carl Jones, OL, North Carolina Central University, 6-foot-2, 285 pounds, senior

Jones is a terrific center. He can move off the ball and is great at leading the way on the N.C. Central’s running attack. He’s also an exceptional pass blocker. He really knows how to stay with his blocks.

Willie Quinn, WR/RS, Southern University, 5-foot-5, 150 pounds, senior

Quinn is a sensational offensive player. He can hurt you with his speed and pass-catching ability, making him a threat as a wide receiver. Last season, Quinn led the Jaguars with 37 receptions for 455 yards, averaged 12.3 yards a catch and had two receiving touchdowns. As a special teams player, he was the best in the nation. He had one punt return for a touchdown, but had four kickoff returns for scores, including a 100-yard return against Prairie View A&M. Quinn was chosen to the STATS FCS preseason All-American team.

Trevin Huff, OL, Bethune-Cookman University, 6-foot-4, 270 pounds, senior

Huff knows how to get out in front of the Wildcats’ rushing game. He does a good job of getting into a pass-blocking position. Huff’s blocking skills should help Bethune-Cookman be one of the best offensive teams in the MEAC.

Donald Hunt, a writer for the Philadelphia Tribune, is a longtime ESPN contributor who has covered Historically Black Colleges and Universities.