HBCU Players Nab Two NFL Draft Spots, 12 Become Free Agents
Written by Roscoe Nance, Special to BlackAmericaWeb.com Thursday, 02 May 2013 15:41
HBCUs had an underwhelming presence in the 2013 NFL Draft as only two Black College athletes were chosen. The New Orleans Saints chose University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff offensive tackle Terron Armstead in the third round, and the Detroit Lions selected Florida A&M linebacker Brandon Hepburn in the seventh round.
The good news, however, is the quality of the athletes from HBCUs who were drafted outdistances the quantity of Black College players who were picked by a wide margin. Armstead and Hepburn, who head to their respective rookie camps next weekend, both are likely to make their teams’ rosters later this summer.
Saints general manager Mickey Loomis told a NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune columnist Jeff Duncan that Armstead will have an opportunity to contribute immediately at left tackle; Hepburn will compete for a backup spot in the Lions’ linebacker corps that lost former Hampton University standout Justin Durant, the starter last season, to the Dallas Cowboys via free agency.
“Everybody knows the Saints got a steal getting that kid (Armstead) in the third round,’’ says ESPN College Football Analyst and former NFL quarterback Jay Walker. “They’re talking about him competing for the starting job right away. They don’t allow a rookie to come in and compete for a starting offensive line position unless they know they got something. He was ranked anywhere from the first round to the third round (before the draft). Getting him in the third round was a steal.’’
Armstead, 6-5, 306 pounds, has the speed, size and athleticism that personnel executives crave in offensive linemen in today’s NFL. His draft stock soared when he ran an unthinkable 4.71 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in February. It was the fast time of any offensive lineman in this year’s draft class and the best for an offensive lineman since 2006, according to NFL.com. In addition, 34.5-inch vertical leap was the second-best for an offensive lineman in the last four years.
The Saints’ starting left tackle job is there for the taking after Jermon Bushrod jumped to the Chicago Bears in free agency. The position has a tradition of excellence with the Saints. They have had Pro Bowl caliber players – Kyle Turley, Jamaal Brown and Hall of Famer Willie Roaf in addition to Bushrod – at that position all but three seasons since 1994.
Walker says Armstead should continue the tradition because of his size and speed.
“He can be a pro bowl guy,’’ Walker says. “If you’re going to try to block somebody coming off the edge like (Dallas Cowboys linebacker) DeMarcus Ware or (Atlanta Falcons defensive end) Osi Umenyiora you got to have a tackle that can move, somebody who is quick enough to get in their way. Jason Pierre Paul, these guys are the real fast freaks of nature. The league has shown that in order to block a freak you have to be a freak yourself.’’
Armstead is freakishly athletic. In addition to being All-SWAC for three years in football, he was an eight-time SWAC champion in track and field shot, hammer throw and discus
“I have the confidence in myself that I can potentially be the starter," Armstead told media following the draft. “But I know I have a hill to climb.’’
As a seventh-round draft pick, the hill that Hepburn will have to climb is a bit steeper than what is ahead for Armstead. But the 6-3, 240-pounder has the assets to get over the hump. Hepburn had a solid showing at the Combine, where he ran a 4.68 40, had 21 reps in the 225-pound bench press and a 32-inch vertical jump.
Whatever Hepburn may lack in skills, he makes up for in spades with his intelligence, intensity and effort. He came to Florida A&M on an academic scholarship and walked on with the football team as a tight end. He red-shirted his freshman season and ended his career as an All-MEAC pick. In addition, he graduated in four years with a degree in Biochemistry. Last season he took graduate courses in Florida A&M’s School of Business and Industry while pursuing an MBA.
“When you got a guy like that, who’s a walk-on and molds himself into NFL caliber player,’’ Walker says, “that’s a guy that’s got a good chance of making the team.’’
Walker says the big advantage for Hepburn is his smarts.
“It’s going to be his intelligence that gets him over the top,’’ Walker says. “He’s the guy that can figure out what the offense is trying to do him and not make the same mistakes over and over again. That’s what gets a lot of rookies cut. If you make the same mistake twice, they’re thinking, ‘Okay, he’s not going to get it.’ It’s a very fast and steep learning curve that you have to have. His intelligence, that’s what’s going to be the decision-maker for him. Because of his intelligence, I think he’ll be able to persevere.’’
Hepburn is well-rounded, and he was involved in a number of activities outside of football while at Florida A&M. He served as president of Florida A&M’s chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and volunteered at homeless shelter in Tallahassee. As an undergraduate he was involved in a cancer research project, and he was selected to a team of college students from across the nation who gathered for the American Chemical Society Conference in San Diego to discuss methods of curing cancer.
He was selected to the 2012 Allstate American Football Coaches Association Good Works Team for his contributions beyond the gridiron.
Hepburn had a stellar senior season with 86 tackles – 9.5 for loss – 5.5 sacks, seven pass breakups and a forced fumble. He is philosophical about being a seventh-round draft pick that isn’t a lock to make the Lions’ roster even though he was rated No. 12 among 132 inside linebackers by one scouting service prior to the draft.
“It’s every player’s dream and aspiration that the body of work they put in will merit them a being high draft selection,’’ he says. “But I understand that throughout the history of the NFL Draft and the way things pan out through players’ careers, it’s not about where you’re drafted or who you go to, it’s about who you are. I tried to keep that rolling in my mind throughout the draft process. I did know if given an opportunity to play I was going to put forth my best effort, get to work early, stay late and really be professional. I believe I’ll be an asset to that organization.’’
Given his speed and intensity, Hepburn’s best shot at making an immediate contribution on special teams. But with Durant having moved on Dallas, the Lions have an opening at an outside linebacker spot in their 3-4 alignment. Florida A&M also ran a 3-4 defense, but Hepburn played inside linebacker, and a position change would be a hurdle that he would have to overcome to earn a roster spot.
“There are a ton of hurdles every rookie has to overcome,’’ he says. “The challenges are ever present. God is good he’ll see me through I have full confidence that I will be able to emerge victorious. There is a myriad of things I could mention (as hurdles to be overcome). It’s all about putting in the work and being professional. Rather than focusing on exactly what it is, saying I have to overcome this or I have to overcome that – I don’t burden myself with that type of drudgery – I take things as they come. Whatever challenge presents itself, I try to adjust to it and move on.’’
The trend in recent years has been for NFL teams to quickly sign undrafted Black College players to contracts immediately following the draft and bring them to their rookie camps. This year’s undrafted free agents from HBCUs include:
Sherman Carter, C, Tennessee State, San Francisco 49ers.
Roger Gaines, OT, Tennessee State, Baltimore Ravens.
Jakar Hamilton, FS, South Carolina State, Dallas Cowboys.
Kentrell Harris, DE, Virginia Union, Oakland Raiders.
Travis Harvey, WR, Florida A&M, Tennessee Titans.
Jamaal Johnson-Webb, OT, Alabama A&M, Arizona Cardinals.
Terren Jones OT, Alabama State, Atlanta Falcons.
Padric Scott, NT, Florida A&M, Arizona Cardinals.
Vernon Kearney; CB, Lane, Buffalo Bills.
Keith Pough, LB, Howard, Buffalo Bills.
Kaderius Lacey, RB Alabama A&M, Kansas City Chiefs.
KJ Stroud, WR, Bethune-Cookman, New York Jets.
Travis Tarpley, WR, Delaware State, Detroit Lions.
Brandon Thurmond, OLB, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Atlanta Falcons.
A number of Black College Athletes have been invited to attend rookie camps with the opportunity to earn contracts with strong performances. They include:
Justin Blash, DT, Albany State, New York Giants.
Jamal Giddens, LB, Norfolk State, Green Bay Packers.
Nathan Hoyte, RB, Albany State, New Orleans Saints.
Greg Jenkins, QB/WR, Alabama State. Oakland Raiders.
Joseph LeBeau, DE, Jackson State, St. Louis Rams.
Saeed Lee, CB, Alabama State, Atlanta Falcons.
Rico Richardson, WR, Jackson State, Kansas City Chiefs.
Kejuan Riley, FS, Alabama State, Atlanta Falcons.
Ronnie Tubbs, WR, Alabama State, New Orleans Saints.
2013 NFL Draft Class Includes Most HBCU Players in a Decade
Written by Roscoe Nance, Special to BlackAmericaWeb.com Wednesday, 24 April 2013 15:41
HBCUs are poised to produce a bumper crop during the 2013 NFL Draft as more than a half dozen athletes from black colleges are projected to be selected during the three-day, seven-round selection process that begins Thursday at Radio City Music Hall in New York; an equal number are likely to sign free agent deals following the draft.
University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff offensive Terron Armstead, Howard linebacker Keith Pough, Florida A&M linebacker Brandon Hepburn, Arkansas-Pine Bluff defensive end Brandon Thurmond, Tennessee State offensive tackle Rogers Gaines, Alabama State offensive lineman offensive tackle Terren Jones, Alabama A&M offensive tackle Jamaal Johnson-Webb and Alabama State safety Kejuan Riley are the cream of the HBCU crop.
If all eight are selected, it would match the largest HBCU draft class since 2003.
“For the first time in a number of years, this is a deep draft for HBCUs,’’ says ESPN College Football Analyst Jay Walker.
Only 49 athletes from HBCUs have been drafted since 2001. Just one – Christian Thompson from South Carolina State, the Baltimore Ravens’ fourth-round pick – was selected last year.
Pough, the 2012 MEAC Defensive Player of the Year, who is rated among the top 10 linebackers in this year’s draft, is well aware of HBCUs’ recent track record in the draft. He has used it as motivation throughout his career at Howard, where he was a three-time All-MEAC selection and set the Football Championship Subdivision career record for tackle for losses, and during his preparations for the draft.
Pough acknowledges playing with a chip on his shoulder because of the perception by some scouts and NFL personnel executives that the talent level at HBCUs is inferior to that at other schools. That was a driving force for him as he competed in the East-West Shrine Game, the oldest college all-star game in the country and one of the venues that NFL teams use to evaluate draft prospects.
He was one of four athletes from HBCUs who played in the game – Armstead, Thurmond and Riley were the others – and he received the Pat Tillman Award for his leadership on and off the field as he outshined athletes from larger and more highly-acclaimed schools.
“I’m from a small black college,’’ he says in an interview with BlackAmericaWeb.com. “That’s synonymous with lack of competition. Because I didn’t go to a bigger school, I have to compete at a level equal to or better than them. It was a great experience. I got to rub elbows with guys from Ohio State and Virginia. I silenced the critics because I played at a high level. I went in with the attitude that I had to prove myself. That was right up my alley. I had a chip on my shoulder.’’
Pough was invited to the East-West Shrine Game after another stellar season. He sat out Howard’s season opener because of an NCAA suspension, and he was hampered by a high ankle sprain that limited his mobility during the Bison’s final three contests. Still, he had 10 tackles for losses, giving him 72 in 44 career games, even though he says he wasn’t back at full speed until January.
“It took me forever to recover,’’ he says. “I was frustrated. I had never suffered an injury before. It threw me for a loop. But the doctors said my timeline was faster than other guys. That kept me in good spirits.’’
The ankle sprain didn’t deter Pough from training as he worked feverishly on his body. He still carries 239 pounds on his 6 foot, 2 inch frame. But he looks much leaner than he did six months ago. He also improved his speed after working with a track coach. He ran a best-ever 4.75 40-yard dash at Howard’s Pro Day last month. His 40 time had caused some teams to downgrade him.
“I had to become a track athlete,’’ he says, while questioning the wisdom of teams putting so much emphasis on 40-yard dash times that are run on a track and not in a football atmosphere. “That doesn’t define you as a player or what type of football player you are. It’s overrated. I’ve never been fast. I pride myself on film work, study and preparation.’’
That work ethic, Pough says, enables him to anticipate where plays are going and get to the point of contact a step or two quicker than other players who may run faster than he does.
“If you look at Howard film, every time a play had to be made, Keith was in the middle of it,’’ Walker says. “He is the FCS career leader in tackles for loss, and he’s a good leader. That should translate to the next level.’’
Pough is projected to be a second- or third-day pick who will be chosen between the fourth and sixth rounds. Scouts say he is athletic enough to play either the weak side or strong side position. They especially like his hustle and ability to run down ball carriers across the field and chase quarterbacks in the pocket.
Besides concerns about his speed, the only question that teams have about Pough is his strength. He did 17 reps in the bench press at the NFL Combine in February. They are uncertain if he will be able to take on NFL linemen in one-on-one battles in blitz situations.
Pough leaves the talk about his measurables – times in the 40-yard, 20-yard shuttle, 60-yard shuttle and three-cone drill and reps in the bench press – to others. He wants teams to know that he is coming to play.
“I’m very confident I can play and be a starter in the NFL,’’ he says. “Confidence is not a problem. I just need an opportunity. Football is football. I’m well prepared. I’m just taking it to another level. It’s a livelihood.’’
The Chicago Bears and Oakland Raiders are two of the teams that have shown a lot of interest in Pough.
Pough has spent the days leading up to the draft with his family in Laurel, Md., trying not think about when he will be chosen and by whom. He says he's just trying to relax and let things fall into place. But that's easier said than done with so much at stake and him having invested so much in the outcome.
“It’s a lot that goes into this process,’’ he says, “selecting an agent, talking to scouts, coaches and general managers, all-star games, Pro Day. After that, you play the waiting game.’’
Seattle LB Leroy Hill Arrested on Assault Charges
Written by The Associated Press Thursday, 31 January 2013 07:21
ISSAQUAH, Wash. (AP) — Seattle Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill was arrested after police say he assaulted his girlfriend and kept her in his home against her will.
According to a release from the Issaquah Police Department on Wednesday morning, Hill was arrested on investigation of unlawful imprisonment-domestic violence and third-degree assault-domestic violence. According to King County Jail records, Hill was booked into the Seattle correctional facility early Wednesday afternoon.
Both charges are felonies in Washington state. It's at least the fourth time Hill, 30, has been arrested and the second time he's been accused of domestic violence.
Police said they responded to Hill's home around 4 p.m. Tuesday. A 26-year-old said she had been assaulted several times and was kept in Hill's home against her will. The women told police that Hill blocked the doorway and took her cellphone. She was able to escape the home when Hill used the bathroom, police said.
She was treated at a hospital and released. A Seahawks spokesman said the team is aware of the situation.
Hill played last season on a one-year contract with the Seahawks. He played in 13 games, starting 12, and recorded 47 tackles and 1½ sacks. Hill is one of two players still on the Seahawks roster from their lone Super Bowl appearance when they lost to Pittsburgh. He's played all eight NFL seasons with the Seahawks and has started 89 of 97 games in his Seattle career.
Hill is scheduled to become a free agent this offseason.
For much of his career, off-field problems have followed Hill. He was arrested less than a year ago for marijuana possession in Atlanta, but the charge was later dismissed. His first arrest came in 2009 in Georgia for marijuana possession where he was sentenced to 12 months of probation.
Then in April 2010, Hill was arrested by Issaquah police on a fourth-degree assault-domestic violence charge. Hill avoided trial on that charge after agreeing to a stipulated order of continuance that required him to avoid legal troubles for 18 months and complete a one-year, state-certified domestic violence treatment program.
Issaquah prosecutor Lynn Moberly said Wednesday that Hill's previous domestic violence case had closed and the latest arrest has no influence on his previous deal.
Hill was suspended by the NFL for two games during the 2010 season.
Ray Lewis Avoids Talk of Report on Human Growth Hormone
Written by HOWARD FENDRICH,AP Pro Football Writer Tuesday, 29 January 2013 19:22
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Of all the topics Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis might have been prepared to talk about at Super Bowl media day, deer-antler spray probably was not among them.
He declined to directly address a Sports Illustrated report that he sought help from a company that makes the unorthodox product to speed up his recovery from a torn right triceps. Lewis was the NFL's leading tackler in the playoffs after missing 10 regular-season games with the injury.
The company says its deer-antler substance contains a byproduct of human growth hormone.
Lewis dismissed the report Tuesday as "stupidity." He said: "There's never been a question of if I ever even thought about using" a banned substance.
The 37-year-old Lewis plans to retire after Sunday's Super Bowl. He was the MVP of the 2001 title game.
Allen Iverson Turns Down NBA D-League Offer
Written by EURweb.com Tuesday, 29 January 2013 12:00
Allen Iverson says he remains hopeful of getting one last shot at the NBA, but he’s turning down the opportunity to launch his comeback in the NBA Development League, reports ESPN.com.
Iverson tweeted today that he’s passing on an offer from the Dallas Mavericks’ D-League affiliate to join the Texas Legends, who are co-owned by Mavericks president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.
“I thank Donnie and Dallas for the consideration and while I think the D-League is a great opportunity, it is not the route for me,” he wrote.
“I realize my actions contributed to my early departure from the NBA, should God provide me another opportunity I will give it my all,” he added. “My dream has always been to complete my legacy in the NBA.
“To my fans, I love yall! Not a day goes by that I am not asked when am I coming back, we all must accept that my return is not up to just me.”
ESPN.com reported Monday that the Legends had ramped up their season-long pursuit of Iverson because they had moved to the front of D-League’s waiver line, meaning that they would have a clear path to signing Iverson if the 11-time All-Star could be convinced to put his name in the developmental league’s player pool.
Iverson last played in the NBA in 2009-10 in brief stints with the Memphis Grizzlies and the Philadelphia 76ers, but the 37-year-old has resisted multiple overtures — this season and last season — from the Legends to use the D-League to get back on NBA radar. The Legends play 25 minutes north of the Mavericks’ home in downtown Dallas.
Iverson has also rebuffed opportunities to sign lucrative deals in China because, to date, he’s been unwilling to consider playing anywhere besides the NBA.
The Legends’ pitch to Iverson centered around the fact that they’ve just convinced NBA veterans Delonte West and Rashad McCants to join their team with similar intentions and have a history of helping players make it back to the highest level.
The Legends signed another 37-year-old earlier this month — point guard Mike James — and wound up putting James in position to earn a 10-day call-up to the Mavericks that turned into a guaranteed contract after James completed his second 10-day deal Sunday.
The Legends, now in their third season, have employed 16 former NBA first-round picks since the team’s inception and previously helped big men Sean Williams and Dan Gadzuric, swingman Chris Douglas-Roberts and veteran guard Antonio Daniels make it back to the NBA.
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