History took centerstage Saturday in New Orleans, as Historically Black Colleges and Universities players were showcased in the first-ever HBCU Legacy Bowl.
Tennessee State quarterback Geremy Hickbottom was named Offensive Most Valuable Player as he helped Team Gaither to a resounding 22-6 win over Team Robinson at Yulman Stadium in New Orleans.
Airing on NFL Network and presented by the Black College Football Hall of Fame, the HBCU Legacy Bowl featured the top draft-eligible players from HBCUs and was the culmination of a week-long event that celebrated Black culture and history. It pitted Team Gaither, named after Florida A&M University coaching great Jake Gaither, against Team Robinson, which was named after Grambling State coaching legend Eddie Robinson.
Hickbottom was 9 of 15 for 72 yards and rushed five times for 25 yards and a 3-yard score with 9:18 to go in the game. He was one of three quarterbacks who had a hand in Team Gaither touchdowns, though, as it largely dominated Team Robinson.
After a slow and scoreless start, Chowan University's Bryce Witt (15 of 21 for 131 yards and a touchdown, three carries for 32 yards) led Team Gaither into the end zone and to a lead it wouldn't relinquish when he piloted a scoring drive late in the second quarter. Witt's TD pass began a 15-0 run to start the game for Team Gaither.
Team Robinson defensive back Antwan Collier (Florida A&M) garnered Defensive MVP with a game-high nine tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.
Other notable outings came from Team Robinson linebacker Derrick Mayweather out of Florida A&M, who had six tackles, and Team Gaither defensive lineman Da'Shaan Dixon (Norfolk State; four tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, pass breakup) and wide receiver Marquis McClain (Southern University and A&M College; seven receptions for 84 yards).
Some of the NFL's most prominent current players from HBCUs are linebacker Darius Leonard (South Carolina State, Indianapolis Colts), offensive tackle Terron Armstead (Arkansas-Pine Bluff, New Orleans Saints), defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (South Carolina State, Philadelphia Eagles) and running back Tarik Cohen (North Carolina A&T, Chicago Bears). However, there were no HBCU products selected in the 2021 NFL Draft and there's been just one picked over the past two drafts.
With Saturday's showcase hopeful of improving those numbers, Alabama A&M quarterback Aqeel Glass entered with the most fanfare. Having won the last two Black College Football Player of the Year accolades, Glass boasts good size (6 foot 5, 215 pounds), great leadership and a strong arm. Unfortunately, he turned in a subpar outing Saturday, starting the day just 1 of 5 and finishing it 4 of 15 for 51 yards, no touchdowns and a 55.2 rating for Team Robinson.
Another promising prospect is running back Ezra Gray out of Alabama State, but he fumbled away possession on Team Robinson's first drive. The 5-foot-7 dynamo was able to rebound to turn in a relatively solid day to the tune of four carries for 33 yards (8.3 yards per carry), which stood as game-high rushing honors.
Following a scoreless opening quarter, Team Gaither found the end zone first. Witt ignited the offense, marching his squad downfield before he found running back Calil Wilkins (Bowie State) for a 12-yard score and a 6-0 lead.
A Team Gaither takeaway led to a 9-0 lead in the third stanza, as Jefferson Souza (Virginia Union) converted a 21-yard field goal. The score was set up when linebacker Wesley Bowers (Bowie State) forced a fumble and Javon Frazier (Virginia State) scooped it up.
Team Gaither turned the game into a blowout when quarterback Juwan Carter (Norfolk State) took a QB draw untouched for seven yards and a 15-0 lead (the extra point was missed as the kicking games of each squad struggled all day).
Quarterback Juwan Pass (Prairie View A&M) got Team Robinson on the board late in the third when he took it in himself for a score and cut the score to 15-6.
But Team Gaither had the majority of the highlights on the day, including the last one, when Hickbottom salted away the game with his rushing score. Roughly nine minutes later, the first HBCU Legacy Bowl was in the books.