The 2012 National Football League Draft commenced with no doubt who would be selected first and second overall. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III knew that they would be joining the Colts and Redskins, respectively. What many didn’t know is that Griffin, who won the 2011 Heisman Trophy, was an Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar finalist in 2010 and 2011.
The Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar Award is the only nationally recognized program that focuses on minority student-athletes who have excelled academically. Former Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson, who is the 2011 winner of the award, was also selected in the draft by the Seattle Seahawks in the third round with the 75th pick overall. Terrance Ganaway, who played running back for Baylor University, was a finalist for the award in 2011 and was drafted by the New York Jets in the fifth round. He graduated early from Baylor with a 3.79 GPA.
Emmanuel Acho is a finalist for the award this year and was nominated for the second consecutive year by the University of Texas. He was a standout linebacker for the Longhorns and was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the fifth round.
While the Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar Award does not focus exclusively on students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, its emphasis on diversity certainly supports the mission of the network of HBCUs around the country: promoting the accomplishments of and leveling the playing field for students from diverse backgrounds.
A record low number of HBCU players were selected in this year’s NFL Draft: one. South Carolina State University safety Christian Thompson was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round. Last year, four HBCU players were selected. The previous low for HBCU players was two in 2010.
Post-draft, however, 24 HBCU players were signed as undrafted free agents. Thompson’s SCSU defensive teammates, safety Dominique Ellis (Kansas City Chiefs) and linebacker Donovan Richard (Jacksonville Jaguars) were also signed to rookie contracts.
Tennessee State University (TSU) also sent three players to the league, tying South Carolina State for the top producer of NFL players in 2012 thus far. Defensive tackle Donte Nichols was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, defensive back Joseph Wylie was signed by the Miami Dolphins, and the Atlanta Falcons picked up linebacker Rico Council.
Bethune-Cookman University defensive end Ryan Davis was considered a sure draft pick by those in the know. Though he did not get selected in the draft, he was signed to the Jacksonville Jaguars post-draft.
Fellow Bethune-Cookman defensive back Jean Fanor was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs. Prairie View A&M, Jackson State and Southern universities each sent two players to the NFL this year, and Winston-Salem State, Fort Valley State, Mississippi Valley State, Grambling, Tuskegee, Hampton, Bowie State, Langston and Morgan State universities each sent one player.