KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Remember the 1978 Draft for the Chiefs? Five HBCU players were drafted by the Chiefs, but integration settled into major college football in the 1980s.
Now, there were a fair share of HBCU players drafted in the ’80s and ’90s that were really good. As discussed, Albert Lewis and Fred Jones out of Grambling were draft picks for the Chiefs. Other teams caught up quick.
Hall of Famers Richard Dent, Jerry Rice came in the 80s, while Shannon Sharpe, Michael Strahan and Aeneas Williams were all Hall of Famers from the 90s draft class.
“Because of segregation, it’s just a belief that well, these guys can’t play, these small colleges, the coaching’s bad, but, with integration, the pipeline from black high schools to black college dried up,” said Michael Hurd, the author of Black College Football.
Hall of Fame Chiefs linebacker and HBCU alum Willie Lanier realizes consistency is the key to keep the HBCU-to-NFL pipeline going.
“The National League all those years ago had come forward. Buck Buchanan was the first number one draft choice. It was not anything new, but for some reason it fell off the cliff. With that. it has to be a continuum where those things are not allowed to fall off a cliff.”
The Chiefs still found some HBCU talent starting early in the 90s with Tim Barnett from Jackson State.
“I played in the Senior Bowl in the Chiefs were my coaches in the Senior Bowl. After talking to my agent he said Kansas City is a team that really drafts a lot of HBCU guys,” Barnett said.
“All these other teams in the NFL had began to see the value, so they constantly went back there again and again. It became a lot smarter move.”
There was one coach in particular who had an impact on Barnett in his time leading up to the NFL.
“I had a coach his name was W.C. Gorden. The first meeting he said my name is W.C. Gorden and let me tell you what the W-C stand for, and he said ‘Will cut, won’t care and will call your parents to come pick you up.'”
Coach Gorden’s advice paid off as Barnett went in the third Round.
“He instilled that in us, you got to work hard and he always said work harder than everybody else. Everybody’s sleep, you got to be up working.”
Barnett was only in the NFL for three seasons. The Chiefs put more stock into a receiver also from Jackson State in Sylvester Morris, who was well aware of the Chiefs history.
“It’s amazing. You’re meeting living legends, these guys paved the way. They laid the foundation for black college kids to be able to be scouted and come to the NFL because of the outstanding jobs they did once they were given an opportunity,” Morris said.
Like the others before Morris, as a first round pick, he was hoping he could make a significant impact.
“I thought it was great, because, you get to meet a lot of the legends that you heard of. Going to an HBCU, I met a lot of guys who I had actually heard of. Buck Buchanan’s, Otis Taylor, Willie Lanier, you get to meet these guys and see them. And you understand you are becoming part of a tradition that is way bigger than yourself.”
Morris, like Barnett before him wasn’t able to have as big of an impact as he wanted, riddled with injuries through his career. But the HBCU well after the early 2000s dried up in the Kingdom.
Safety Greg Wesley was in the same draft class with Sylvester Morris in 2000, from Arkansas Pine-Bluff. He played eight seasons for the Chiefs. But it was the entire NFL after 2000s that dropped off.
A chart from Football Perspective showed total HBCU players after 2001 never reached above 10 players.