Football season kicks off with the MEAC/SWAC Challenge in Atlanta later in August. As teams from historically Black colleges and universities across the country prepare to put their talents on display, here are some Division I HBCU players to watch.
Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference
Davius Richard, North Carolina Central University
Eagles quarterback Davius Richard is the 2023 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference offensive preseason player of the year. He led North Carolina Central to a 41-34 overtime victory over Jackson State in the 2022 Celebration Bowl, completing 15 of 20 passes for 177 yards and one touchdown in the win and rushing for 97 yards and two more touchdowns.
The 6-foot-3, dual-threat quarterback finished 2022 ranked 10th in the nation in total offense, with 287.4 yards per game. He passed for 2,661 yards and 25 touchdowns and scored 15 rushing touchdowns, proving he’s just as capable of running the ball. Richard capped off his junior campaign by winning MEAC offensive player of the year.
He’ll have help in North Carolina Central’s drive to repeat as Celebration Bowl champions from Eagles defensive back Khalil Baker, the MEAC defensive preseason player of the year.
North Carolina Central will kick off its 2023 season on Sept. 2 against in-state foe Winston-Salem State University.
Lawrence Richardson, Morgan State University
Lawrence Richardson was one of the MEAC’s top linebackers in 2022. The Philadelphia native tied for first in tackles at Morgan State (77), ranking fifth in the conference. His most dominant game came at the expense of Morgan’s in-state rival Towson University, where he had a season-high of 13 stops and a forced fumble.
Richardson was named to the 2023 preseason All-MEAC First Team defense and has high hopes for the 2023 season.
“My goal for the 2023 season is to win the Celebration Bowl,” Richardson told Andscape. “I want to hold that winning trophy and hoist it into the air. I also want to have an All-American season and be the best leader possible on and off the field.”
Richardson credits former Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders for raising awareness of HBCU football.
“HBCU football hasn’t been respected nationally until Deion Sanders burst on the scene as JSU’s coach,” Richardson said. “Now, I believe NFL teams are taking notice and will select more HBCU players to fill their roster.”
Morgan State will kick off its season on Sept. 2 against the University of Richmond.
Kenny Gallop Jr., Howard University
Bison defensive back Kenny Gallop Jr. finished the 2022 season with 93 tackles and was second in the MEAC in tackles per game. The Virginia native earned MEAC defensive player of the week honors in October 2022 after his 16-tackle game against Harvard. Gallop’s defensive prowess led to a spot on the 2023 preseason All-MEAC First Team defense.
Last season, Howard shared the MEAC title with North Carolina Central, the first for the Bison since 1993. North Carolina Central, which had won the schools’ head-to-head matchup earlier in the season, won the Celebration Bowl berth.
Gallop said the Bison must “elevate on everything we do” to win this season’s Celebration Bowl.
“We have to clean up some small things,” Gallop said. “And overall, just stay disciplined and locked in.”
The Bison will begin their new quest for a Celebration Bowl appearance on Sept. 1 against Eastern Michigan University.
Southwestern Athletic Conference
Sundiata Anderson, Grambling State University
Georgia native Sundiata Anderson has big expectations for the upcoming season after being named the 2023 Southwestern Athletic Conference preseason defensive player of the year. The talented edge rusher knows how to pressure quarterbacks, earning seven sacks in 10 games in 2022. Anderson also had 23 solo tackles and 27 assisted tackles.
Anderson credits Grambling coach Hue Jackson for introducing the keys to success to him and his teammates.
“Coach instills things into us that are important to having a successful season,” Anderson told Andscape. “The first is being disciplined not only on the field but also off the field, because how you do anything is how you do everything.
“Coach also encourages us to be a family. We [the team] came together this summer like never before. It’ll help with communication and trust, which leads to championships.”
Grambling State will start its 2023 season on Sept. 2 against Hampton University.
Jeremy Moussa, Florida A&M University
Rattlers quarterback Jeremy Moussa was named the 2023 Southwestern Atlantic Conference preseason offensive player of the year.
Moussa transferred from Vanderbilt in 2021, quickly impacting Florida A&M’s offense. He led FAMU to a 9-2 overall record (7-1 in conference play) in 2022, passing for 2,730 yards and 21 touchdowns, finishing the season with a 57.3% completion rating and a 128.2 quarterback rating.
Moussa’s best statistical game of last season came against Bethune-Cookman University: He completed 15 of 19 passes for a 78.9% completion rating. He also threw for two touchdowns and finished the game with a 199.9 passer rating.
Florida A&M briefly suspended football activities after an unauthorized music video was shot in the program’s locker room. The suspension was lifted July 24, giving the Rattlers time to prepare for the Orange Blossom Classic, the first game of their season. Florida A&M will play SWAC rival Jackson State on Sept. 3.
Jah’Marae Sheread, Florida A&M University
Coaches and sports information directors picked Florida A&M to finish first in the SWAC East Division, and wide receiver Jah’Marae Sheread is part of the reason. The Houston native combined for 1,215 receiving yards over the last two seasons. Sheread’s offensive firepower earned him a spot on the 2023 preseason All-SWAC First Team offense.
Sheread is an effective punt returner for the Rattlers, totaling 464 yards in punt returns over the last two seasons, including a 66-yard run. He was named to the Preseason Phil Steele All-SWAC Second Team Special Teams as a punt returner.
Tairiq Stewart, North Carolina A&T State University
Former West Virginia offensive lineman Tairiq Stewart transferred to North Carolina A&T in 2021, and it has paid off for the Aggies. The 6-foot-6 right tackle totaled 17 pancake blocks in 2021 and 40 in 2022. Coastal Athletic Association coaches anticipate a big season for Stewart as he earned a spot on the 2023 preseason All-CAA offensive team.
“The offensive line is the biggest component within a winning formula,” Stewart told Andscape. “You can’t achieve success without us big guys up front.”
The Aggies are making their CAA debut this season after spending two seasons in the Big South. Although switching conferences can be challenging due to unfamiliarity with opposing teams, Stewart said the Aggies will be prepared.
“Regardless of the conference changes, they all hold one thing in common,” Stewart said. “Any given Saturday holds the opportunity for a team that may not be as talented to win based on discipline. We’re coming to make a lasting impression in the CAA. We’re here to dominate.”
North Carolina A&T will open its season on Aug. 31 against the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Qwahsin Townsel, Hampton University
Hampton linebacker Qwahsin Townsel racked up 100 tackles for the Pirates in 2022. Townsel transferred from Villanova in 2022, but he remained in the CAA at Hampton. Townsel was named to the 2023 preseason All-CAA team.
“It’s a good feeling to be named preseason All-CAA,” Townsel said. “It gave me motivation to reach that next level I know I can tap into, one step closer to being an All-American, which is one of my top goals.”
The Pirates debuted in the CAA last season after spending four seasons in the Big South. The Pirates finished 4-7 overall and 1-7 in conference play.
“My teammates and I are going into this season with a chip on our shoulders,” Townsel said. “We believe in our potential and aren’t going to let last season’s record define us.”
Hampton will start its season on Sept. 2 against Grambling State University.
Draylen Ellis, Tennessee State University
Quarterback Draylen Ellis began his collegiate career at Austin Peay University, where he was named Ohio Valley Conference co-freshman of the year for the 2020-21 season and received Second Team All-OVC honors in 2021.
Ellis transferred to Tennessee State in 2022, throwing for 1,806 yards and completing 54.8% of his passes last season. Ellis totaled 27 touchdown passes over his last two seasons.
His best game of the 2022 season was in October against Eastern Illinois, when he completed 27 of 36 passes for 309 yards and passed for three touchdowns.
Tennessee State will kick off its 2023 season on Sept. 2 against the University of Notre Dame.