When Doug Williams came out of Grambling State in 1978, the NFL Scouting Combine did not even exist.
He got an opportunity to visit five franchises during the pre-draft process and hoped at least one would like him enough to select him. That team ended up being the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who made Williams the first Black quarterback to be selected in the first round.
Nowadays, there are plenty of ways for the top prospects to showcase their abilities but not nearly as many for those who play at historically black colleges and universities. That's why Williams is advocating for the first-ever HBCU Combine, which will take place Friday and Saturday at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.
"These guys playing at their universities, they don't get a chance to be seen," Williams told senior vice president of media and content Julie Donaldson on an episode of "Washington Football Today." "And I think having a combine, just by themselves, gives them an opportunity for the scouts and other teams to come and see what they have."
Cancelled a year ago because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the HBCU Combine will feature 42 draft-eligible players, some of whom were invited to the previous combine and are back to prove themselves to scouts from the NFL and other leagues. All participants will go through traditional combine drills, such as the 40-yard dash, bench press and short shuttle, as well as on-field exercises to showcase their football skillset.
"That was a tough thing dealing with COVID-19 this past year; guys couldn't get a workout, guys couldn't get an opportunity to go to anybody's camp because of COVID," Williams said. "Doing it now, these guys have been working all year, hopefully, and give themselves an opportunity to be seen again. I think that's important."
Twenty-nine HBCU players held either NFL roster or practice squad spots in 2020, according to USA Today, and Williams hopes that number will increase going forward thanks to the HBCU Combine and the HBCU Legacy Bowl, a postseason all-star game that will debut in February of 2022. About 100 players will receive invites to play in the game, Williams said, and the two teams will be led by coaches of HBCU programs.
Founded by Black College Football Hall of Fame, National Football League and Pro Football Hall of Fame, the game will take place the Saturday after Super Bowl LVI at Tulane University in New Orleans. It will be broadcast live on NFL Network, providing valuable exposure for prospects as they attempt to continue playing the game they love at a professional level.
"This game is going to be big for the guys coming out," said Williams, the first Black quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl. "It's not going to guarantee everybody an opportunity to go to the National Football League, but it will get them an opportunity to play in their last game, and after that, whether or not they get a chance to go to the league."