The HBCU sports season is officially on, and as host of the national sports talk radio show, From the Press Box to Press Row, I cover all the action on the games that showcase our Historically Black Colleges and Universities. HBCU GameTime will provide a weekly rundown on what’s happening on the field, and occasionally other sports-related topics. Let’s play!
Defense is definitely the theme in this year’s top five HBCU players to watch – Vol. 4. Five players (six players were ranked because of a tie) are on the defensive side of the ball and of those three are cornerbacks. This is the year of the defensive back.
When looking at the four conferences – CIAA, MEAC, SWAC, and SIAC – nine of the 17 defensive backs who were named preseason all-conference were first team all-conference last year. The preseason selections to the defensive backfield this year were very fortunate to make it, and if any of them are fortunate enough to make it to a postseason all-conference team this year, they will be amongst the elite defensive backs in the nation.
This could be a tough year for quarterbacks. There are some very good quarterbacks this year, but of those returning, none were close to putting up the numbers that Boxtorow All-American Kameron Smith of Winston-Salem State put up last year (completed 59 percent of his passes for 3,312 yards, 43 touchdowns, and 334 yards rushing).
Touchdowns were down last year as compared to 2011, but as a whole, so too were interceptions. The players on this list are definitely some of the elite players in HBCU football. All of them had dominant seasons last year and most have proven themselves over an extended period of time.
T-5 LeRon Furr, Fort Valley State, LB (6-3, 235, r-Sr., Columbus, Ga.)
Furr transferred to Fort Valley State after a knee injury threatened not only what looked like a promising career at Oklahoma State, but also his career. After sitting out 2011, Furr came back to football with a vengeance. Furr recorded 110 tackles (60 solo) and led the nation with 32 tackles for loss, while also registering 6.5 sacks. He was named SIAC Co-Defensive Player of the Year last year and is the SIAC’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
T-5 Stephen Goldbolt, III, Tennessee State, CB (6-1, 180, r-Jr., Cross City, Fla.)
Goldbolt had a breakout year for the Tigers last year helping to lead TSU to an 8-3 record, its best since 2008. He led the FCS in interceptions per game (.6) and totaled six on the season. Just a junior, he is already considered one of the best cornerbacks in the country, is on almost every preseason watch list, and is the Ohio Valley Conference’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
4. Robert Simpson, Mississippi Valley State, DL (6-3, 267, Sr., Biloxi, Miss.)
Simpson was one of the big reasons the Delta Devils were ranked No. 5 in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) in total defense giving up only 279 yards per game. He was also one of the big reasons the Delta Devils were 5-6 last year, a decent record for MVSU considering they won a combined total of four games during the 2009, 2010, and 2011 seasons.
Simpson registered 59 tackles, 29 of those tackles for losses totaling 121 yards. His 2.05 tackles for loss per game ranked second amongst all FCS players. He also registered seven sacks. He played end in high school but has made the transition to the tackle position. Look for him to play more end this year, the position he would most likely play on the next level.
3. Darnell Evans, Shaw, CB/RS (5-9, 190, Sr., Madison, N.J.)
As a freshman in 2010, Evans was a first team All-CIAA performer. This in a league that has been known for producing cornerbacks over the years including most recently Greg Toler, currently with the Indianapolis Colts, who was a fourth round pick by the Arizona Cardinals in 2009. Evans has an opportunity to play on Sundays. He’s fast. He’s smart. He’s got great cover corner and ball skills.
Evans has the numbers: 16 career interceptions, returned for 350 yards, three returned for touchdowns; and 31 pass breakups. Add kickoff and punt returns to his resume’ where he averaged 31.8 yards per kick return with a touchdown and 18.8 yards per punt return with a touchdown. Of his four interceptions last year he returned two for touchdowns. Already a jack of all trades, there’s also a strong possibility he could play some wide receiver this year. Evans could be this year’s most versatile player in HBCU football.
2. Isidore Jackson, Bethune-Cookman, RB (5-10, 205, r-Sr., Mossy Head, Fla.)
It’s hard to believe that Jackson was redshirted in 2009, especially when Bethune-Cookman averaged a paltry 152 yards rushing per game in the Wyatt-bone offense, named for then head coach Alvin Wyatt. In 2010, Wyatt was released and current head coach Brian Jenkins was hired. Jackson began to shine as a redshirt freshman gaining 530 yards on 118 carries and 11 touchdowns.
As a sophomore, he bested those numbers on his way to first team All-MEAC honors after gaining 866 yards, averaging 5.9 yards per carry and rushing for seven touchdowns. Then came his breakout year last year when he rushed for 1,069 yards, averaged 5.6 yards per carry and 11 touchdowns.
All of this while sharing time with Rodney Scott who rushed for 632 yards. Jackson never averaged less than 4.1 yards per carry in any one game last year and rushed for 66 yards on just 13 carries and a touchdown against Miami. This year Jackson will be the featured back. He can also be relied upon to be an excellent receiver out of the backfield. He has excellent speed once in the open field and can break tackles at the line of scrimmage. He will once again run behind a solid offensive line.
1. Qua Cox, Jackson State CB (6-0, 185, r-Sr., Tuskegee, Ala.)
Not only is Cox one of the best players in HBCU football and perhaps THE best player, he is one of the best players in the country. He is on everybody’s preseason All-American team and watch list. A Boxtorow All-American last year, Cox is truly a shutdown corner. He has excellent awareness for the football, great speed and is a sure tackler.
His 2012 YouTube highlight video is labeled “The Chosen One.” After seeing the video you can understand why. Cox really showed off in front of a nationally televised audience in the SWAC championship game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff as he registered seven tackles, a sack, two pass breakups and an interception. He finished the season with five interceptions, eight pass breakups, 50 tackles, five tackles for loss and two sacks. For his career he has 10 interceptions and 24 pass breakups. He has been named the SWAC’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.