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.

Vick, Fitzgerald and Suggs among stars on College Football Hall of Fame ballot for 1st time

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Michael Vick, Larry Fitzgerald and Terrell Suggs are among the college football stars who will be considered for induction to the Hall of Fame for the first time this year.

The National Football Foundation released Monday a list of 78 players and nine coaches from major college football who are on the Hall of Fame ballot. There also are 101 players and 32 coaches from lower divisions of college football up for consideration.

Vick, who led Virginia Tech to the BCS championship game against Florida State as a redshirt freshman in 1999, is among the most notable players appearing on the ballot in his first year of eligibility.

Vick finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1999. He played one season of college football before being drafted No. 1 overall by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001. Vick’s professional career was interrupted when he served 21 months in prison for his involvement in dog fighting.

Fitzgerald was the Heisman runner-up in 2003 to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White. He scored 34 touchdowns in just two seasons at Pitt.

Suggs led the nation in sacks with 24 in 2002 for Arizona State.

The 2024 Hall of Fame class will be chosen by the National Football Foundation’s Honors Court and announced in January. Induction into the Atlanta-based hall is the following December.

Alabama freshman DB Mitchell says he wasn’t sure he’d get to play again after arrest

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama defensive back Tony Mitchell said he feared his football career was over after his arrest on a drug charge.

The Crimson Tide freshman said in a video posted Sunday on social media that he knew “something much bigger could have happened.”

A judge in Holmes County, Florida, sentenced Mitchell to three years of probation with a fine and community service on May 24 after Mitchell pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of more than 20 grams of cannabis.

“I didn’t know if I’d be able to play football again, but I continued to work out and stay close with the Lord and those who love me unconditionally,” Mitchell said. “During those times, it helped me to keep my mind off it. But when I was by myself looking at social media, what everybody had to say about it, it just felt like it happened again.

“I didn’t sleep at night.”

He was suspended from the Alabama team following the arrest, but Mitchell’s father, Tony Sr., posted on Facebook last week that the defensive back had been reinstated. An Alabama spokesman declined to comment on Mitchell’s status.

Tony Mitchell Sr. shared his son’s video on Facebook, saying it was filmed during a talk to youth.

“I was doing things I knew I shouldn’t to try to fit in,” the younger Mitchell said, “but not everybody’s your friend.”

Mitchell, who is from Alabaster, Alabama, was a four-star prospect and the 15th-rated safety in the 247Composite rankings.

He had been charged in March with possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell after a traffic stop when authorities said he drove over 141 mph (227 kph) while trying to evade deputies in the Florida Panhandle. A deputy had spotted Mitchell’s black Dodge Challenger traveling 78 mph (125 kph) in a 55 mph (88 kph) zone on a rural highway north of Bonifay.

He also received 100 hours of community service and paid a fine of $1,560.

Mitchell and a passenger were both charged with possession of marijuana with the intent to sell or deliver, according to a Holmes County Sheriff’s Office arrest report. The other man also was charged with carrying a concealed gun without a permit.