National Signing Day 2011: For Historically Black Colleges, It's a Reality Check

Kendrick MarshallCorrespondent IFebruary 1, 2011

South Carolina State head coach Oliver Pough continues his winning ways despite the lack of blue-chip athletes
South Carolina State head coach Oliver Pough continues his winning ways despite the lack of blue-chip athletes

South Carolina State head coach Oliver "Buddy" Pough is content with the idea of not landing one single top 150 recruit when National Signing Day ends.

While the prospect of being completely shutout by prized blue-chip prep athletes is unacceptable for many football programs in the cut throat game that is college recruiting, Pough, who is one of the most successful coaches in historically black college football, does not see it that way.

During a recent interview with B/R, Pough said he sees it as the new normal for historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) football.

"It's not frustrating," Pough said when asked if he ever gets fed up with elite black athletes standing up Orangeburg for what to them might be greener pastures at Football Bowl Subdivision schools. "We know that blue chip athletes more than likely want to go BCS schools.

This new normal is a far cry from several decades ago when the likes of Harry Carson, Deacon Jones and Robert Porcher were dominating the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) and the college football landscape at South Carolina State.

What has changed since then is desegregation, multi-million dollar television contracts and the exposure major universities and conferences have used over the year to attract the best young black athletes.

The University of Texas might have made matters worse for mid-major FBS schools and HBCUs alike by inking a $300 million deal with ESPN to televise all things Longhorns for the next 15 years.

"Kids have all kind of choices," said Pough. "They have so many schools to choose from."

Richmond head coach football coach Latrell Scott can relate to the plight of Pough and other HBCU head coaches who seem to be fighting an uphill battle when it comes to convincing a 4 or 5-star recruit to take a gander at an FCS school.

"We are just not going to get blue-chip athletes. Those kids want to play at Ohio State and play in a BCS bowl game," Scott said. "We try to target the right student-athletes for our program."

Scott, who played tight end at Hampton University in the mid-90s under legendary coach Joe Taylor, said some of today's young black athletes have not grown up in an era where the HBCU football experience trumps what is found in the SEC, Big Ten or ACC.

That disconnect, in his opinion, is one of many issues that has contributed to the dwindling numbers of gifted black football players suiting up at an historically black college near you.

"I grew up with an HBCU background," Scott said about his parents taking him to several games a year featuring black college talent as a kid. "We knew the value of the CIAA [Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association] championship."

Knowing this coaches are in the enviable position of selling substance over style in the form of playing time, hands-on football instruction and matriculating from a university which sets them up for a worthy post-athletic career opportunity after graduation.

The vast majority of our teams are black and I don't see that changing," former North Carolina head coach George Small told ESPN. "But I'm not selling race when I go recruit an athlete. I want players of any race that will help me win."

Even though not much fanfare will be made over the kids who sign with South Carolina State in the coming days, that won't stop Pough, who has won at least a share of three MEAC championships and a black college football national championship, from working.

From recruiting to helping mold young teenage football players into men—even if they don't have multiple stars next to their names on major recruiting sites signifying their value—Pough embraces the challenge.

"We know we are going to get the bottom 25 percent of student-athletes," Pough acknowledged. "Our job is to develop them into the best football players they can be."

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