Originally appeared on NOLA.com
“If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain.”
That old phrase could be the mission statement of the HBCU Legacy Bowl.
James “Shack” Harris and Doug Williams didn’t have to move a mountain, but after seeing not a single player from a Historically Black College or University selected in last year’s NFL draft, the duo of former Grambling greats did bring HBCU players to the attention of league scouts.
Standing on the field after Team Gaither defeated Team Robinson 22-6 on Saturday at Yulman Stadium, Williams couldn’t help but smile. He took in the expressions on the faces of the players as they hugged each other afterward, celebrating together.
“This is a great day,” he said. “To see this happen. To see these young people get a chance to show what they can do on the field, and have the scouts come to see them, I think that’s the most important thing.”
Harris and Williams have dedicated themselves to both preserving and promoting HBCU football as a way of life. After founding the Black College Football Hall of Fame in 2009, they have spent the past 13 years spreading the gospel of the often forgotten players of the past while working to create opportunities for the next generation.
The next piece of their vision was realized as nearly 100 players took the field Saturday afternoon in a game broadcast by the NFL Network. For young men who rarely get seen on TV, it was a dream come true.
“It’s a blessing to be out here,” Alabama A&M wide receiver Dee Anderson said. “To be here the whole week and showcase our abilities and skills in front of scouts firsthand … is a blessing.”
While dreams are enjoyable, the players took care of their business on and off the field. Each practice was a job interview, and when they weren’t popping pads they were meeting with companies to prepare for their post-football lives.
“Football doesn’t last forever,” offensive MVP Geremy Hickbottom said. “I took advantage of the career fair and got into some contact with people to open those alleys for me.”
The HBCU Legacy Bowl lives in the spirit of offering opportunities to those who are overlooked.
“Everything has some hiccups here and there,” Williams said of the inaugural event. “I think that we found out that we’ll find a way to make it better for next year, and that’s an important thing. But the foundation that we built is the most important thing.”
There is something to build upon. Over the past two years the profile of Black college football has been raised as names such as Deion Sanders, Eddie George and Hue Jackson have made their way to HBCU campuses as head coaches. Elite talent has followed them.
And even more was on the field Saturday, hoping to earn their shot at the next level.