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HBCU Legacy Bowl growing, continues to provide opportunities for athletes and students

'We understand the opportunity that these guys have not gotten over the years'

Student athletes came together to compete in the 2023 NFL HBCU Combine held at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center on Monday, February 20, 2023.

When, from a historical perspective, you arguably are the most pivotal Black quarterback ever to throw a pass in the NFL, the first to win a Super Bowl (and be named Most Valuable Player in the game) and a titan from a historically black college and university (Grambling State) who was a former first-round pick in the NFL Draft, the notoriety is automatic.

But Doug Williams said that neither he, nor James "Shack" Harris – another titan from Grambling in his own right, the first Black quarterback to be named a full-time starter in the NFL and the first to lead his team to the playoffs – cares a whit about being the faces, or faces, of the HBCU Legacy Bowl, the all-star game for players from historically black colleges and universities which will be played Saturday at Yulman Stadium on the Tulane University campus.

Saturday's game will be the second Legacy Bowl, and the second in as many years at Yulman Stadium.

"It ain't about me," said Williams, who, along with Harris, also is co-founder of the Black College Football Hall of Fame. "If it was somebody else, I'd be just as happy. It ain't about my face, Shack's face – we don't even have a face. As long as we can have this game and give a lot of young people an opportunity."

The first leg of opportunity came Monday, when certain players participated in the HBCU Combine, which was conducted at the New Orleans Saints indoor facility at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center.

"I talked to a couple of the guys the other day and I asked them, 'If we didn't have this, where would you be?'" Williams said. "Because when you look at the (NFL) Combine, we might have two guys that have been invited to the Combine.

"The thing about this is, we've got our own combine with 32 teams sending scouts. So when you look at it, you've got the best of both worlds. You've got an opportunity to showcase and you've got the NFL coming to watch you. Because if it wasn't for this combine and this Legacy Bowl, this all-star game – because you've got the Senior Bowl, the East-West (Shrine Bowl), you've got the NFLPA game – you've got two guys from these schools that's in one of those games.

"But here, we've got 100 guys to showcase. Fifty guys that were in the combine get a chance to play in this game and show people what they can do, because I do believe that there are some talented guys in HBCUs. And there's no reason why 10 to 12 to 15 guys shouldn't get drafted or signed as free agents and get an opportunity to play. Like last year, we had 40 guys that got a chance to either go to camp, sign as free agents or be drafted."

The second leg of opportunity is a career fair at the Ernest M. Morial Convention Center, open to at least 800 seniors and juniors, representing 16 HBCUs, which will be conducted Thursday and Friday.

"To me, that's bigger than the football game," Williams said.

Williams said the process has smoothed from the initial Legacy Bowl, and will continue to do so in the future.

"The most important thing is the community and the sponsorship, that's the reason why we're able to have this game," he said. "If it wasn't for those guys who sponsor this and the people around this area and outside the area, we wouldn't be able to have it."

And, perhaps, if not for Williams and Harris, the game might not exist.

"I didn't do this for me, Shack didn't do this for him," Williams said. "We could ride off into the sunset, but we understand – having gone to an HBCU – we understand the opportunity that these guys have not gotten over the years. So we felt like if we create something to give them an opportunity, a platform to showcase their talent, that's what it's about. We decided to do it.

"I just hope that it's sustainable, that people understand what we're trying to do and all the sponsors stay behind us and let's do this for the rest of eternity."

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