VUU, VSU left mark on NFL

HBCU grads sidelined at NFL Draft

Fred Jeter | 5/9/2024, 6 p.m.
Nowadays, the NFL seems to have overlooked HBCU athletes. None were selected in the most recent draft and just one ...
Larry Brooks

Nowadays, the NFL seems to have overlooked HBCU athletes. None were selected in the most recent draft and just one was called in the past three years. Current NFL rosters only average about one HBCU player per team.

But that wasn’t always the case. From the middle 1970s into the ’80s, Virginia Union University and Virginia State University standouts were well known around the NFL.

VUU’s Herb Scott was a mainstay on the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line while VSU’s Larry Brooks was a force on the Los Angeles Rams defensive front four.

As a 13th round pick, Scott became a three-time Pro Bowl and two-time All-Pro selection for Coach Tom Landry’s Cowboys from 1975 to 1984.

Scott hailed from Virginia Beach and was coached at VUU by Willard Bailey.

Picked in the 14th round, Larry Brooks was a five-time Pro Bowl and two-time All-Pro selection between 1972 and 1982. Coming from Prince George, Brooks starred at VSU under Coach Walt Lovett.

Other VUU luminaries reaching the NFL in that general timeframe were defensive back Tony Leonard (1976-79 with San Francisco), receiver Malcolm Barnwell (1981-85 with Oakland) and lineman Cornelius Johnson (1968-73 with Baltimore).

VSU was represented in the NFL by linemen Jim Mitchell (1970-77, Detroit) and Ron Davis (1973, San Francisco).

VUU’s most recent draftee was defensive back Keith Hunter by Dallas in ‘02 while VSU’s most recent was running back Trenton Cannon in 2018.

According to Pro Football Reference, 15 VUU Panthers have played in the NFL.

In addition to those mentioned above, they are Roger Anderson (1964-68), James Atkins (2003-04), Carl Bland (1984-90), Hezekiah Braxton (1981-85), Mike Brim (1988-95), Marlion Jackson (2006), Bob Jones (1973-76), Irvin Mallory (1971), Bobby Phillips (1995) and Adrian Wright (1987).

For VSU the list includes James Brown 1993-00), Rufus Crawford (1978), Kelvin Kinney (1997-98), Leo Miles (1953) and Ben Whaley (1949).

There’s no secret why the HBCU to NFL conveyor belt stalled. By the mid ’70s, Black standouts around the nation began choosing the larger, more affluent majority white schools over HBCUs.

Deion Sanders hoped to change that momentum in his three seasons at Jackson State but was unable to move the needle before leaving for Colorado.

So many of the NFL’s all-time greats were the product of HBCU’s but that was mostly decades ago.

A total of 35 HBCU alumni, from 17 schools, are now in the NFL Hall of Fame. That includes second all-time rusher Walter Payton (Jackson State) and all-time receiver Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley).

There are four Hall of Famers each from Grambling, Jackson State and Morgan State (featuring Richmonder Willie Lanier).

The most recent was Michael Strahan, the NFL’s all-time sack leader out of Texas Southern in 2014.

Perhaps the most HBCU-friendly NFL team of all time was the 1969 Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. There were some 15 HBCU players on the Chiefs’ roster (including Lanier) when they defeated Minnesota for the title.

This past Super Bowl, Kansas City won with one HBCU alumnus, cornerback Joshua Williams from Fayetteville State.

Also safety Bryan Cook attended Howard before transferring to Cincinnati.