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HBCU Football Kickoff: Players to Watch in 2019

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Miles College linebacker, Austin Stephens, is defensive player of the year in the Southern Intercollegiate Conference and one of the players to watch in 2019. (Provided Photo)
Donald Hunt
For The Birmingham Times

This should be an exciting football season for many Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) around the country. Some of the top Division I HBCUs are North Carolina A&T, Alcorn State, Bethune-Cookman, Howard, Southern and Prairie View A&M. In the Division II ranks, Miles College, Albany State, Tuskegee, Bowie State, Virginia Union and Fayetteville State are expected to be among the best.

There’s a great list of HBCU players to keep an eye on this season. You can find a good player at just about every position. The season will start in a little more than a week. As the season begins, here are some of the best HBCU players in the country.

Austin Stephens

Linebacker

Miles College

5-foot-11, 210 pounds  

Senior 

Stephens was picked as last season’s Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) Defensive Player of the Year and returns for his fourth year with the Golden Bears. The Munford, Ala. native led the SIAC in total tackles (120), which is currently tied for seventh in Division II. Stephens had 14.5 tackles for loss, one sack, an interception and a fumble he recovered and returned for a touchdown. Stephens became the first-ever player from Miles to be named to the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Division II All-American Team and was the only SIAC selection in the 2018 D2CCA All-Super Region 2 Football Team.

Caylin Newton

Quarterback

Howard University

6-foot, 195 pounds

Junior

Newton, the younger brother of Pro Bowl quarterback Cam Newton from the Carolina Panthers, is building quite a legacy of his own. Newton was named the preseason Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

He was named to several watch lists such as Black College Football Hall of Fame Player of the Year, College Football Performance Awards (CFPA), FCS National Performer of the Year (POY) and the STAT FCS Walter Payton Award. He finished his sophomore year as the MEAC’s top passer with 2,629 yards and 22 touchdowns in 10 games.

Noah Johnson

Quarterback

Alcorn State

6-foot, 195 pounds

Redshirt Senior

Johnson was the Southwestern Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year. He can throw and run the football. He threw for 2,207 yards and 15 TDs and rushed for 1,080 yards. Johnson led Alcorn State to the SWAC championship and to the Celebration Bowl.

Jequez Ezzard

Wide Receiver

Howard University

5-foot-9, 160 pounds

Senior

Ezzard has a knack of making big catches down the field. He led the nation in yards per catch (26.6). He had 40 receptions for 1,064 yards and 12 TDs. He’s a big-play receiver in the Bison offense.

Solomon Muhammad

Linebacker

Alcorn State

6-foot-1, 235 pounds

Senior

Muhammad is a sensational defensive player. He does a good job of playing the run. He was the team’s second leading tackler with 64. Muhammad also had 4.0 sacks and 9.0 tackles for loss. Muhammad knows how to read the play and make the tackle.

Ju’Anthony Parker

Defensive back

Prairie View A&M

5-foot-11, 165 pounds

Senior

Parker is one of the most talented defenders in the country. Parker was named to the FCS Preseason All-America team. He was named to the Black College Football Hall of Fame Player of the Year watch list. He had 26 total and 20 solo tackles last year.

Jimmie Robinson

Kick Returner

Bethune-Cookman

5-foot-8, 162 pounds

Redshirt senior

Robinson is one of the most exciting players in the country. He’s capable of breaking a long run at any time as a kick return specialist. He led the MEAC in kickoff return yards with 730. Robinson averaged 33.2 yards in kickoff returns which was fourth-best in the country among FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) schools.

Chris Rowland

Punt returner/wide receiver

Tennessee State

5-foot-8, 170 pounds

Rowland is one of the best punt returners in the nation. He averaged 13.0 yards a return. Rowland is a terrific wide receiver, too. He was the Tigers’ leading receiver. he had 57 catches for 727 yards and five TDs. He could have another big season for the Tigers.

De’Shawn Waller

Running back

Alcorn State

5-foot-11, 210 pounds

Senior

Waller is a great open field runner. He had 1,215 rushing yards and 12 TDs last season. Waller averaged 6.5 yards a carry. He was named to the Black College Football Hall of Fame Player of the Year watch list.

Marcus Pettiford

Offensive lineman

North Carolina A&T

6-foot-4, 293 pounds

Senior

Pettiford is one of the best offensive linemen in the MEAC. He was named to the preseason first team all-conference. Pettiford played a big role in the Aggies’ high scoring offense with his blocking skills.

Franklin “Mac” McCain III

Defensive back

North Carolina A&T

5-foot-11, 173 pounds

Junior

McCain III is a great all-around defensive back. He can play the run as well as the pass. McCain had 37 total and 29 solo tackles. In addition, he had two interceptions, eight pass breakups and 10 pass deflections. McCain has great anticipation in the secondary.

Kaiden Crawford

Offensive tackle

Delaware State

6-foot-5, 310 pounds

Senior

Crawford is one of the best stories in college football. Crawford played just one season coming out of Simon Gratz. The former Public League star has developed into an NFL prospect with the Hornets. Crawford is a great pass and run blocker.

Dedrick Parson

Running back

Howard University

5-foot-8, 195 pounds

Redshirt sophomore

Parson is one of the most versatile running backs in the MEAC. He’s coming off a great season where he had 125 carries for 706 yards and 9 TDs. He averaged 5.6 yards a carry.

Brian Cavicante

Linebacker

Delaware State

6-foot, 220 pounds

Senior

Cabaicante earned preseason MEAC Defensive Player of the Year honors. Cavicante had 89 total and 50 solo tackles last season. He was second in the conference with 17 tackles for loss. Cavicante is one of the best playmaking linebackers in the nation.

Tabyus Taylor

Running back

Virginia Union

6-foot, 250 pounds

Junior

Taylor runs with power and speed. Taylor gained 1,546 yards and scored 21 touchdowns last season. He’s a big reason why Virginia Union has one of the best teams in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Taylor is one of the top returning running backs in Division II.