Daily Camera (Boulder)
HBCU players seeking ways to increase numbers at combine
INDIANAPOLIS >> Mark Evans II feels honored to be at this week’s NFL’S annual scouting combine.
The former Arkansas-pine Bluff offensive lineman just believes more players from historically Black colleges and universities deserve to be in Indianapolis.
Nearly three years after the NFL announced its support for enhanced diversity policies and just weeks after the second Legacy Bowl and HBCU combine wrapped up, Evans and Isaiah Land are the only HBCU participants among the 319 invitees. That’s half of last year’s total of four.
“I feel like they’re making progress, but I feel like it most definitely should be more than two,” he said Saturday. “I feel like there are a lot of good players out there and I feel like we should be represented more.”
Should combine officials ask, Evans has some suggestions: linebacker Jordan Lewis of Southern, Lewis’ college teammate and 2023 Legacy Bowl defensive MVP Jason Dumas and North Carolina Central offensive lineman Robert Mitchell.
It’s just a start — and he has more suggestions for next year’s combine, too.
For now, though, Evans must acknowledge one undeniable fact; two years after no HBCU players were drafted, he and Land look like the best hope of avoiding a repeat.
The 6-foot-2 1/2, 303-pound Texan is scheduled to work out Sunday with the offensive linemen before closing down the combine with Monday’s bench press.
But the edge rusher from Florida A&M certainly did his part this weekend. Land measured in at 6-foot-3 1/2, 236 pounds, was clocked in the 40-yard dash at 4.62 seconds, 13th in his position group and just .02 seconds behind former Alabama star Will Anderson Jr., one of the front-runners to be this year’s No. 1 overall pick.
“I try to put my best foot forward every time because I just want to give hope to those guys at the HBCU level, like you know you could make it to this point,” he said before Thursday’s workout. “You’ve just got to stay consistent, and you’ve got to have that underdog mentality.”
It’s a lesson Land, who is from Buffalo, New York, seems to have taken from one of today’s top HBCU ambassadors, Indianapolis Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard. The three-time All-pro beat the odds by becoming a second-round pick, the 2018 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year and despite an injury-filled 2022 season is still regarded as one of the league’s top playmakers.
Few gave him a chance when he started at South Carolina State. Today, he’s not only the face and voice of what can be achieved with grit and work, he repeatedly advocates for teams and scouts to keep HBCU prospects on their radar.
He’s not alone. Washington Commanders general manager Martin Mayhew grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, and followed Land’s Rattlers, partially because they were local but primarily because Florida A&M was his mother’s alma mater. He’s been a fan ever since.