After the conclusion of the 2023 NFL Draft, Deion Sanders took to social media to express his disappointment in the lack of players from HBCU schools getting selected.
The former Jackson State head coach and Hall of Fame cornerback tweeted on Saturday that he would be “ashamed” of 31 of the NFL’s 32 teams. Only one player from an historically black college heard his name called: Isaiah Bolden, who played under Sanders with the Tigers, was picked 245th overall by the New England Patriots.
No other HBCU prospect was drafted this year. For Bolden himself, the fact that he is the lone representative from these schools to get drafted comes with responsibility.
“It means a lot to me, just having that chip on my shoulder, carrying the weight of HBCUs,” Bolden said during his introductory conference call with the New England media on Saturday. “I’ve got something to prove. There’s a lot of talented guys that are out there. I just understand that chip on my shoulder is for all the HBCUs.”
Bolden started his college career at Florida State before transferring to Jackson State in 2020, arriving the same year as Sanders. He went on to play in 26 games for the school as a defensive back and special teamer.
An outstanding athlete, he posted some impressive numbers at the Jackson State Pro Day in late March and earned a 9.44 Relative Athletic Score in the process. Nonetheless, the non-Scouting Combine invitee had to wait until Round 7 to finally come off the board — something no other HBCU prospect can say this year.
Are they overlooked? Bolden was unable to answer that question shortly after joining the NFL.
“I mean, I don’t know,” he said. “I’m just — a lot of emotions. I’m just excited to be a Patriot.”
Fact is that that the Southwestern Athletic Conference, which is made up of historically black colleges and universities like Jackson State, is not getting the same national recognition as other conferences. That does not mean there are no talented players, though. The Tigers themselves, for example, have produced four Pro Football Hall of Famers.
Bolden is far from reaching that status, of course. Nonetheless, the Patriots do like what he brings to the table.
“Isaiah, coming from maybe the most high-profile HBCU here right now with Coach “Prime,” spending his time down there,” said Patriots director of player personnel Matt Groh.
“Isaiah, a Florida kid, went to Florida State. Ended up at Jackson State. So, this is a southeast kid growing up down in Florida. Football is in a lot of those guys’ in veins. Was able to spend some time with Isaiah here in the pre-draft process, and certainly looking forward to getting to know him better and congratulate him on representing the HBCU. I think that’s a great thing.”