Top HBCU football players to watch this spring
Some top players we won’t see because either their teams canceled the season or they’re preparing for the NFL draft
The 2021 FCS spring football season is underway and athletes, mostly from the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC), will get to showcase their talents on a national stage unlike ever before.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the SWAC is the only historically Black college and university (HBCU) conference playing football during the 2020-21 season. The other HBCU conferences, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association and Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, opted out of playing. Tennessee State, a member of the Ohio Valley Conference, is playing as well.
We are also listing top players who aren’t playing because their teams canceled seasons or they opted not to play in order to prepare for the NFL draft.
The Undefeated’s top players watch list
Junior linebacker – Jackson State
Keonte Hampton was the 2019 SWAC Defensive Player of the Year after recording 106 tackles and a league-high 69 solo stops. He has averaged 8.8 tackles a game and was a two-time SWAC Defensive Player of the Week in 2019. He had a team-high 8 tackles in the Tigers’ 53-0 season-opening win against Edward Waters College.
Sophomore quarterback – South Carolina State
Corey Fields got national notice when as a freshman he set a South Carolina State single-game record for touchdowns against Howard in a 62-21 victory, completing 18 of 29 passes for 333 yards and 7 touchdowns. Fields won STATS FCS Freshman of the Week for that performance. He eventually finished third in the MEAC with 15 passing touchdowns last season.
Sophomore wide receiver – Alabama A&M
Abdul-Fatai Ibrahim finished second in the SWAC in receptions in 2019 with 59 catches for 1,004 yards and 11 touchdowns. Ibrahim was named SWAC Freshman of the Year and was recognized by HERO Sports as a Freshman All-American after having the most receiving yards by an FCS freshman.
Nick Harper Jr.
Senior cornerback – Tennessee State
Nick Harper Jr. finished 11th nationally with 1.3 passes defended per game in 2019. Harper started all 12 games and finished fifth on the team with 58 tackles, 46 solo, 14 pass breakups and two interceptions, earning him a Phil Steele All-Ohio Valley Conference first-team honor.
Senior running back – Southern University
Devon Benn had 811 yards on 153 carries and 7 touchdowns in 2019, earning second-team All-SWAC honors. In 2018, Benn led the Jaguars with 782 rushing yards on 158 attempts. He is the top returning running back in the SWAC this season.
Top players who won’t be returning
Senior cornerback – North Carolina Central
Bryan Mills will not be returning for the Eagles because they canceled their spring season. He’s considered a top HBCU prospect for the 2021 NFL draft and played in the Reese’s Senior Bowl in January. As a junior, Mills tied the North Carolina Central record for interceptions in a game with three picks against Morgan State. He was voted first-team All-MEAC and ranked second in the league with 13 passes defended. Mills was a unanimous selection to the 2020 preseason All-MEAC first team.
Senior quarterback – Alcorn State
Felix Harper isn’t playing because Alcorn State opted out of spring football. Harper was the 2019 SWAC Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for 2,954 yards and 33 touchdowns, while adding 6 rushing touchdowns, and only 8 interceptions. He was one of the four finalists for the HBCU Player of the Year award in 2019. In the 2019 Celebration Bowl, he threw for 341 yards and 3 touchdowns and also ran for 2 additional touchdowns.
Franklin ‘Mac’ McCain III
Senior defensive back – North Carolina A&T
Franklin “Mac” McCain III has declared for the 2021 NFL draft. He played three seasons for the Aggies, helping them win three straight Celebration Bowls and clinch three MEAC titles. McCain was named All-Conference each season and earned multiple All-American honors. He now hopes to become the fourth North Carolina A&T player drafted to the NFL in the last five years.
Senior running back – North Carolina A&T
Jah-Maine Martin had planned to return and play, but the Aggies canceled their season. He was coming off a sensational junior year in 2019, rushing for 1,446 yards and 23 touchdowns for 7.7 yards per carry. He had seven 100-yard games and one 200-yard game. Martin, named to multiple All-American teams, was the only player in the MEAC to rush for more than 1,000 yards in 2019.