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HBCU Football's Top Stories of 2021

HBCU football's top-ten most impactful moments of the 2021 season in the SWAC, MEAC, CIAA, and SIAC.

HBCU football was very, very good to us in 2021. 

We witnessed a renaissance in HBCU football and important figures and moments transformed the future of the game for years to come. Whether is was games, players, coaches, recruits, playoffs, bowls, or scheduling, the HBCU experience was at an all-time high in the SWAC, MEAC, CIAA, Big South, OVC, and SIAC.

Here are the HBCU football's top-ten most impactful moments of the 2021 season.

Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders and South Carolina State head coach Oliver Pough

HBCU Football Top 10 Stories of 2021

1.  The Recruitment of Travis Hunter

When Jackson State "Out Recruited" Florida State, Georgia, and Alabama for the consensus No. 1 recruit in the nation, Travis Hunter, it sent shockwaves throughout college football. FBS head coaches and alumni immediately became nervous and upset, which led to a few prominent coaches calling into question the manner Hunter was recruited. All of this was done without Kiffen, Swinney, and Leach having a shred of evidence to the contrary.

NFL Network's Rich Eisen asked Jackson State's head coach Deion Sanders about "you took Travis Hunter from Florida State, what does that mean?"  

Sanders responded, "I don't he ever belonged to them. I don't think I took him. I don't think he ever belonged to them." Which is a great point. Hunter committed verbally but did not officially sign a letter of intent to attend Florida State University as a student-athlete.

Coach Prime talked about FSU head coach Mike Norvell's request for him to help recruit a player from Louisiana. He "called me to help him recruit a kid out of Louisiana. And I FaceTime the kid, I FaceTime the mother, and I did my thing. Florida State has been using me for years to do what I do to help influence these kids to come to the wonderful alma mater. No problem. I did it. I believe the kid signed."

"So what's the difference of me doing that and doing it for myself? exclaimed Sanders. " So it was good enough for you. But it's not good enough for me. That's what I have a problem with [recruiting Travis Hunter].

"So, you're saying now, I'm good enough to get you players. But the player or I'm not good enough to get me players. Which one is it? Or we're not good enough at Jackson State? Or I'm not good enough as a person. I would like that answer," said Sanders.

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2.  The 2021 Cricket Celebration Bowl Results and new HBCU National Champion

Jackson State was an overwhelming favorite by experts, analysts, fans, and Vegas before the Celebration Bowl. After 40+ years of coaching, the South Carolina State Bulldogs' head coach Buddy Pough would embrace the moment for the win. 

It may be considered an upset, but the young men of South Carolina State were more physical and passionate from the opening gun to the final whistle.

The Bulldogs 31-10 victory cemented South Carolina State as the No. 1 HBCU football team in the nation.

Jackson State's Head Coach Deion Sanders

3. Deion Sanders Hospitalized

The month without Deion Sanders was a puzzling time in HBCU football. The person who helped to lead HBCU football's renaissance was down and missing for the sidelines for several games. Coach Gary Harrell aka "Coach Flea," and the rest of JSU's inner circle knew how precarious Sanders' health condition was daily and kept it private.  

Sanders improved. Jackson State went undefeated during his crisis and won the SWAC East crown.

Prairie View A&M head coach Eric Dooley, left, and JSU head coach Deion Sanders, right

4. 2021 Cricket SWAC Championship Game

Coach Dooley's Panthers came into Jackson, Mississippi, with a few tricks up their sleeves for an early lead in the SWAC Championship game. Both defenses were stout in the first half, but Jackson State had a young man nicknamed "THE PROBLEM!"  

James Houston's shocking interception was the catalyst JSU required. The Jackson State defense lifted the team, and Isaiah Bolden's kickoff return for a touchdown put the game out of reach for Prairie View.

The new "Kings of the SWAC" were crowned. After the tilt, you could feel the energy on the field as Coach Sanders accepted the SWAC Championship trophy and proclaimed the team was not finished. 

JSU needed "one more" win in the Celebration Bowl to accomplish what many didn't believe the team would be in the position to win the HBCU National Championship.

Markquese Bell

5.  Florida A&M Earning an FCS Playoff Spot

Florida A&M's VP and AD Kortne Gosha lobbied and marketed the 2021 season of the Rattlers to the NCAA FCS Playoffs decision-makers. However, head coach Willie Simmons and the Rattlers' football team earned a bid into the 2021 FCS Playoffs.  

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I saw FAMU take on Southeastern Louisiana. Quarterback Cole Kelley and the SLU offensive and defensive lines were overpowering the Rattlers. Eventually, FAMU fell 38-14 in Hammond, Louisiana.  

It was an outstanding season for Coach Simmons and his players.

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6. Bowie State Wins, Goes Deep Into NCAA DII Playoffs

CIAA Coach of the Year, Damon Wilson, and his Bowie State Bulldogs rattled off eleven-straight wins after losing in the season opener to Delaware State. Bowie claimed its third-straight CIAA crown when they defeated Fayetteville State 27-7 in the title game.

Bowie State advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs after defeating Lenoir-Rhyne 31-10 in the first round. The Bulldogs sent Newberry College packing with an impressive 13-10 decision at home.

The historic storybook season for Bowie closed with a crushing 41-17 loss to the Valdosta State Blazers. The DII quarterfinals defeat had media professionals at BOXTOROW believing the Bulldogs were the best HBCU football team in the land.

JSU vs AAMU

7. Changing of the Guard in the SWAC: Jackson State Dominating Alabama A&M

Coach Maynor fired shots at Coach Sanders, asking if he could send a "scooter" to him before the game. Maynor was referencing Sanders's Aflac scooter to get around the sidelines after his foot surgery.

Aqeel Glass and the Alabama A&M Bulldogs were reigning SWAC Champions from the Spring session after defeating Arkansas Pine-Bluff 40-33. In Week 5, Deion Sanders and the JSU Tigers wanted revenge after the 52-43 drubbing at the hands of Connell Maynor's team in the Spring.

The contest became a "beat down." At one point in the game, Jackson State scored five-consecutive unanswered touchdowns to rout Alabama A&M, 61-15.

A new team was emerging in the SWAC.

South Carolina State head coach Oliver " Buddy"Pough

8. South Carolina State's Winning Streak Won the MEAC

After losing to FAMU 30-7 on Oct. 8, the Bulldogs had a 1-4 record. Coach Pough's team went on a five-game winning streak in the MEAC over Delaware State, North Carolina Central, Howard, and Norfolk State. North Carolina A&T was their only defeat over the six-game period - but A&T left the MEAC for the Big South Conference.

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9.  Alcorn St. Upsets Prairie View For a Chance

The SWAC West was contentious between the division-leading Panthers and Braves. For Coach McNair's team to have a shot at the West title, the Braves would need to defeat the Panthers and Jackson State in the regular-season finale.

The dream of returning to the SWAC Championship game would end against the Tigers, 24-10.

Jackson State freshman quarterback Shedeur Sanders

10. The Orange Blossom Classic

The season opener featured Florida A&M and Jackson State in Miami at the 2021 Orange Blossom Classic.   The winner would control the SWAC East and set into motion Jackson State's and FAMU's dominance in the SWAC for 2021.

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11.  HBCU Legacy Bowl Formation

I would be remiss not to mention the importance of the HBCU Legacy Bowl.  The newly formed bowl all-star game and combine for HBCU seniors or juniors entering the NFL Draft is the brain-child of co-founders Doug Williams and James "Shack" Harris.   

The event will be held in New Orleans, Louisiana on Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022 at 3 PM in Tulane University's Yulman Stadium.

The Black College Football Hall of Fame is presenting the week-long event.

12. Hue Jackson and Eric Dooley's Hirings

A former NFL head coach will assume the duties at Grambling State.  Goal: Restore the brand!

Eric Dooley vacates Prairie View, takes most of his former staff and plants a flag at Mumford Stadium.   He returns to Louisiana to regain the offensive fire-power of the Jaguars!

2021 SWAC Champions in Football

13. Spring Football Games

When the SWAC weathered through losing the Fall season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Spring season offered hope and promise for players and a new coach to enter the fray. Coach Prime gave old and new fans a renewed interest in HBCU football - not only in the SWAC but also in the MEAC, SIAC, and CIAA. It set the tone for the upcoming Fall season. '

SWAC Commissioner Dr. McClelland's decision to reconvene play for the schools and players helped keep the broadcasters' and fans' engagement high for the 2021 Fall regular season. 

Attendance records, record television appearances, and outstanding performances gave everyone a rewarding view of the HBCU football experience in 2021 and what's in store for 2022.


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