QBs Hickbottom, Witt, WR McClain stand out in Legacy Bowl

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NEW ORLEANS – Tennessee State’s Geremy Hickbottom began his final college football season by learning a new system with a new team and ended it by being named the top offensive player at the first All-Star game organized for players at historically Black colleges and universities.

Hickbottom accounted for 97 yards and a touchdown from scrimmage in three possessions, helping Team Gaither beat Team Robinson 22-6 in the inaugural HBCU Legacy Bowl on Saturday.

Hickbottom’s approach centered on “taking what they give me, not trying to overdo it,” he said. “That’s when you get yourself in trouble. But just take what they give me a find a way to execute it.”

Hickbottom passed for 72 yards and rushed for 25, including a 3-yard touchdown dash around the right end.

Bowie State running back Calil Wilkins turned a short pass from Chowan’s Bryce Witt into a 12-yard touchdown and Norfolk State quarterback Juwan Carter added a 7-yard touchdown run for Team Gaither.

The teams were named for two of the most prominent former head coaches at historically Black colleges and universities: Grambling’s Eddie Robinson and Florida A&M’s Jake Gaither.

Southern receiver Marquis McClain caught seven passes for 84 yards for Team Gaither.

Florida A&M’s Antwan Collier, who played for Team Robinson, was named the game’s top defensive player after making nine tackles, including 1 1/2 tackles for loss.

“Throughout this week I just came in and told myself, `Learn the system fast, fit into the scheme and do your job,’ and that’s exactly what I did – and came out and competed every day,” said Collier, who previous played for UCF before an arrest led to his dismissal.

Collier thanked Florida A&M coach Willie Simmons – who coached Team Gaither at the Legacy Bowl – for giving him a second chance and said he arrived in New Orleans focused on “doing everything the right way.”

“You’ve got to talk like a pro. You’ve got to work out here like a pro,” Collier said. “I was being a leader on the field. I was trying to put everybody in a situation to make a play.”

Hickbottom, who played for Grambling in the spring of 2021 before transferring over the summer, passed for 1,847 yards and rushed for 261 net yards in 10 games for Tennessee State last fall. He entered the regular season on the heels of his recovery from COVID-19. His regular season ended when he was carried off the field on a stretcher with a bruised spine against Austin Peay on Nov. 13.

But he was deemed fit to play in the Legacy Bowl and drove his unit into field goal range on the opening series. Virginia Union kicker Jefferson Souza sailed his 51-yard field goal attempt wide left, however.

Wilkins opened scoring when he caught a pass from Witt in the right flat and ran around the end.

Extra points were kicked from the NFL distance (snapped from the 15-yard line and kicked from about 33 yards). Souza missed his first and Team Gaither led 6-0 at halftime.

Witt, who came on to start the second quarter and led another series in the fourth quarter, was 15 of 21 for 131 yards. He completed seven of eight passes for 66 yards on his touchdown drive. This season, Witt passed for 2,864 yards and 31 TDs in 10 games for Division II Chowan.

Teams started each quarter with fresh possessions.

Souza gave Team Gaither a 9-0 lead with a 21-yard field goal set up by a turnover. Fort Valley State receiver Sehmar Bridges fumbled after a short pass on which he went to the ground to make the catch, but then got up and ran – an allowable move in a game played largely by NFL rules.

Bowie State linebacker Wesley Bowers forced the fumble on the Team Robinson 29. Virginia State defensive end Javon Frazier scooped up the ball and returned it to the 3.

After team Gaither took a 15-0 lead on Carter’s keeper, Souza again missed the extra point.

Prairie View A&M quarterback Juwan Pass provided Team Robinson’s lone score on a 1-yard run. But yet another extra point kick failed, this one by Benedict’s Rigoberto Tinoco.

After Hickbottom’s touchdown run in the fourth quarter, Souza made the extra point for the final score.

The game was the brainchild of former NFL quarterbacks Doug Williams and James “Shack” Harris, who both played at Grambling. They wanted improve exposure for top Black college players to pro scouts during a week of activities that included meet-and-greets at a downtown hotel and practices.

Top HBCU players from college football’s FCS level and Division II were invited.

Several prominent NFL players showed their support. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes took part in the pre-game coin toss. Saints left tackle Terron Armstead was among the dignitaries on the sideline.

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told MLive.com after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.