The history of black college football is more than a century old.
The number of outstanding players who played black college football is incredible. For many years, HBCUs have been able to get the cream of the crop when it comes to landing the top black athletes.
It wasn't until the mid- to late '70s that the doors to the major-college football programs started to gradually open up for African-Americans. As a result, a lot of great players have come through programs like Grambling State, Florida A&M, Tennessee State and Morgan State.
Despite these players' successes, a number of people don't realize they honed their skills at HBCUs. It's important to know the history of the game. It's also important to recognize the best black college football players to ever play the game.
All-time HBCU football team
WR: Jerry Rice, Mississippi Valley State (1981-85)
Rice played a wide-open style of offense with coach Archie Cooley and quarterback Willie Totten, who is now the head coach of the Delta Devils. In his senior year, Rice caught 100 passes for 1,845 yards and scored 28 touchdowns. He teamed up with John Taylor and quarterback Joe Montana to form a great passing combination with the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL.
T: Jackie Slater, Jackson State (1972-76)
Slater was one of the best offensive linemen to ever play in the SWAC. He was a three-time all-conference selection.
G: Rayfield Wright, Fort Valley State (1963-67)
Wright had great athleticism, playing tight end and offensive tackle in college. He was a seventh-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL draft. Two years ago, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
C: Woody Peoples, Grambling State (1964-68)
Peoples was one of Eddie Robinson's best offensive linemen. He played on the Philadelphia Eagles' 1981 Super Bowl team.
G: Larry Little, Bethune-Cookman (1964-68)
Little is the greatest pulling guard in the history of the game. It's hard to believe he was undrafted, but he played for the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins.
T: Art Shell, Maryland State (now Maryland-Eastern Shore) (1964-68)
Shell played center and defensive tackle his first two years with the Hawks. He spent his last two seasons as a two-way tackle. He and the late Gene Upshaw were a great blocking combination with the Oakland Raiders.
WR: Bob Hayes, Florida A&M (1960-64)
An Olympic champion sprinter, Hayes was known as the "World's Fastest Human." He was a pretty good wide receiver, too. He could run past any defender and developed into a great receiver under Jake Gaither, Florida A&M's legendary coach. He also starred for the Dallas Cowboys.
TE: Raymond Chester, Morgan State (1966-70)
Chester had the size and speed to run deep routes, which most tight ends weren't doing at the time. The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder could also catch passes in traffic. In 1970, Chester was a first-round pick of the Oakland Raiders.
QB: Doug Williams, Grambling State (1974-78)
Williams was a first-team All-American and finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting in 1978. During his college career, he passed for 8,411 yards and 93 touchdowns. In 1988, Williams had the greatest day of his NFL career when he led the Washington Redskins to victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII.
RB: Walter Payton, Jackson State (1971-75)
Payton rushed for 3,563 yards in four years at Jackson State. It was in college that Payton picked up his nickname "Sweetness" because of the smooth way he ran. He had a great career with the Chicago Bears. The Hall of Famer is one of the NFL's all-time leading rushers.
RB: Leroy Kelly, Morgan State (1960-64)
Kelly was a running back who ran with power and speed. He was one of the best running backs in HBCU football. He was an eighth-round pick of the Cleveland Browns. Kelly eventually replaced the great Jim Brown.
DL: Willie Davis, Grambling State (1952-56)
Davis was one of the greatest players to ever play at Grambling State. He had outstanding quickness and athletic ability. He ended up having a Hall of Fame career with the Green Bay Packers.
DL: Buck Buchanan, Grambling State (1959-63)
Buchanan was an NAIA All-American with the Tigers. He could bat down passes with either hand, play the run and rush the passer. He is one of four G-Men in the Hall of Fame.
DL: Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Tennessee State (1970-74)
Jones, a 6-9 pass rusher, lived up to his nickname. He was the most dominating defensive player in the nation, and was the first player selected overall by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1974 NFL draft.
DL: Deacon Jones, South Carolina State/Mississippi Vocational (1958-60)
If they had kept statistics for sacks, Jones' playing career would have been off the charts. His strength and quickness terrorized offensive linemen and caused nightmares for quarterbacks.
LB: Willie Lanier, Morgan State (1963-67)
They called him "Contact" with the Kansas City Chiefs because of his tackling ability. Lanier was a two-time small college All-American. He played for the great Earl Banks at Morgan State and was one of the first blacks to play middle linebacker.
LB: Robert Brazile, Jackson State (1971-75)
Brazile was best known for his pass-rushing ability from the linebacker position. He was a real playmaking linebacker who could go sideline to sideline and is one of the greatest players to ever come out of Jackson State.
LB: Isiah Robertson, Southern (1967-71)
Robertson was a consensus All-American. He had a sensational senior year, picking up 112 total tackles. He also had a 102-yard interception return for a touchdown against Grambling State.
CB: Willie Brown, Grambling State (1959-63)
There weren't many quarterbacks who threw in Willie Brown's direction. He had a Hall of Fame career with the Oakland Raiders.
S: Ken Houston, Prairie View A&M (1963-67)
Houston was an All-American who made everything look easy. The 6-3 defender had the range and speed to cover top receivers.
S: Mel Blount, Southern (1966-70)
Blount, an All-American, was a great one-on-one defender. He played on four Super Bowl championship teams with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
CB: Johnny Sample, Maryland State (1954-58)
Sample was a terrific defensive back in the NFL. He was a fierce hitter who also played running back at Maryland State. He was the first player from an HBCU to play in the College All-Star Game held in Chicago.
P: Greg Coleman, Florida A&M (1972-76)
Coleman was one of the first few African-Americans to play in the NFL. He is one of the greatest punters in HBCU history and had a 12-year NFL career. Ten of those seasons were with the Minnesota Vikings.
K: Cedric Oglesby, South Carolina State (1996-2000)
Oglesby was one of the top place-kickers in the MEAC. He won many games for the Bulldogs with his foot.
KR: Alvin Haymond, Southern (1960-64)
Haymond was a crafty kick returner. He knew how to find the open spaces in kickoff coverage, and was also explosive in the open field.
PR: John Taylor, Delaware State (1983-86)
Taylor did it all in college. He was a brilliant wide receiver who earned All-MEAC honors during his career. His career totals include 100 receptions for 2,426 yards and 33 touchdowns, four rushing touchdowns, 339 yards rushing and four punts returned for TDs.
Head coach: Eddie Robinson, Grambling State (1941-97)
Robinson spent 56 years at Grambling State. He put together an overall 408-165-15 record and sent more than 200 players to the NFL.
Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.