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Stan Becton | NCAA.com | December 18, 2021

The top players, by position, in the 2021 HBCU football season

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The 2021 HBCU football season is almost at a close, but talented players shined for teams throughout the FCS season. Yet a select group of players have rose above the rest with on-field play. Here are the top players, by position, in the 2021 HBCU football season.

This list has more than the traditional 22 players plus specialists. On offense, the list features an extra, third wide receiver and an all-purpose back to showcase the increase in spread offenses throughout college football. On defense, the list features both four defensive lineman and four linebackers since teams play both a 4-3 and 3-4 defense. With the rise of nickel packages, the list also features an additional defensive back. In total, there are 29 players.

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Overall, the SWAC leads the MEAC for players landing on this list 19-10. However, the MEAC lead the SWAC when it comes to players on the list per conference team.

Top 2021 HBCU football players, by position

Offense

  • QB - Aqeel Glass, Alabama A&M
  • RB - Bishop Bonnett, Florida A&M
  • RB - Gary Quarles, Alabama A&M
  • WR - Abdul-Fatai Ibrahim, Alabama A&M
  • WR -Trey Gross, Delaware State
  • WR - Odieu Hilaire, Alabama A&M
  • TE - Kemari Averett, Bethune-Cookman
  • OL - Justin Redd, Norfolk State
  • OL - ย Jalen Powell, Norfolk State
  • OL - Colby Byrd, Norfolk State
  • OL - Keenan Forbes, Florida A&M
  • OL - Robert Lacey, Tennessee State
  • AP - J.J. Davis, Norfolk State

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About the offense

At quarterback, Alabama A&M's Aqeel Glass gets the nod after to a strong, record-breaking finish to the season. The skill positions have big-play weapons in Delaware State's Trey Gross and Bethune-Cookman's Kemari Averett, scoring 13 and 10 touchdowns, respectively. The two join Alabama A&M's top two wideouts.ย 

In the trenches, Keenan Forbes and Robert Lacey are arguably the best lineman in their conferences. Moving down the list, it was a close call for the all-purpose spot, but J.J. Davis gets the nod thanks to having slightly more opportunities to show off his skills as a receiver out of the backfield.

Defense

  • DL - James Houston, Jackson State
  • DL - De'Shaan Dixon, Norfolk State
  • DL - Antwan Owens, Jackson Stateย 
  • DL - Jason Dumas, Prairie View A&M
  • LB - Isaiah Land, Florida A&M
  • LB - Aubrey Miller, Jackson State
  • LB - Untareo Johnson, Bethune-Cookman
  • LB - Keonte Hampton, Jackson State
  • S - Markquese Bell, Florida A&M
  • S - ย Drake Cheatum, Prairie View A&M
  • CB - Decobie Durant, South Carolina State
  • CB - BJ Bohler, Florida A&M
  • DB - Brandon Savage, Norfolk State

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About the defense

This defense can do it all. It has four Buck Buchanan finalists in James Houston, Isaiah Land, Markquese Bell and Decobie Durant.ย 

Adding in up front, De'Shaan Dixon and Jason Dumas were nightmares off the edge all season. Antwan Owens might get less attention than his teammate on the defensive line, but like the rest, Owens can get after the quarterback.

In addition to Land, the remaining linebackers are tackling machines, led by Untareo Johnson and his 101 tackles. Keonte Hampton grabbed the final linebacker spot, displaying the versatility as both a standup linebacker and a pass rusher.

The secondary features NFL prospects, Bell and Durant, plus other playmakers. Drake Cheatum leads the SWAC in interceptions, closely followed by BJ Bohler. Brandon Savage gets the final defensive back spot after showing shutdown corner abilities in the MEAC.

Specialists

  • K - Adrian Olivo, North Carolina Central
  • P - Josh Sanchez, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
  • KR - Isaiah Bolden, Jackson State
  • PR - Brandon Codrington, North Carolina Central

About the specialists

With two kickoffs returned for touchdowns, Isaiah Bolden was the only MEAC or SWAC first-team return specialist to score two return touchdowns this season. However, Brandon Codrington opened the season with a punt return for a touchdown in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge game. For that, he earns a spot on this list.

Adrian Olivo, the former Freshman All-American, followed up his freshman campaign making 11 of 12 field goals. Olivo was as consistent as they come this year. Likewise, Josh Sanchez could always be counted on in the field position battle, landing 21 punts inside the 20-yard line to just three touchbacks.ย 

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Just Missed

  • S - Esaias Guthrie, Delaware State
  • K/P - Jose Romo-Martinez, Florida A&M
  • QB - Juwan Carter, Norfolk State
  • LB - James Green, Tennessee State
  • LB - Chad Gilchrist, South Carolina State
  • LB -ย Noah Rainbow-Douglas, North Carolina Central
  • WR - Jadakis Bonds, Hampton
  • RB - Syโ€™Veon Wilkerson, Delaware State

About those that just missed the cut

The three players that were the most difficult omissions were Esaias Guthrie, James Green and Juwan Carter. Carter's lack of team success with a conference title on the line to end the season kept him from grabbing the quarterback spot. Guthrie was a near miss because he did not force any turnovers against MEAC competition. Green didn't make the cut based on his slow start against HBCU opponents to start the season.

Jadakis Bonds passes the eye test as a dominant player, but he misses out on the top players list because his numbers are behind those ahead of him. Lastly, Sy'Veon Wilkerson took the MEAC by storm out of the backfield, but a lack of success in the passing game keeps him from taking either the running back or all-purpose spot.

Other superlatives

  • Most Valuable Player - Aqeel Glass, Alabama A&M
    • As Glass went, so did the Alabama A&M Bulldogs. In the middle of the season, Alabama A&M lost three straight games. In the losses, Glass threw four interceptions, was sacked eight times and completed 44% of his passes, respectively. Take out those three games, and Glass was elite all season long, with the Alabama A&M offense rolling. That's true value.
  • Offensive Player of the Year - Bishop Bonnett, Florida A&M
    • Bonnett was pivotal to Florida A&M's offensive success. With struggles at quarterback, Bonnett was a consistent presence all season long.
  • Defensive Player of the Year - Isaiah Land, Florida A&M
    • Land leads the country in sacks and tackles for loss. The last player to do this was Southern's Jordan Lewis; he won the Buck Buchanan Award as the top defensive player in the FCS. Land might be next to win the award.
  • Best overall unit - Norfolk State offensive line
    • If you want pass protection, the Spartan offensive line could do it. If you want a downhill rushing attack, the big men up front at Norfolk State could do that, too. There's a reason so many Norfolk State players earned first-team All-MEAC and the Norfolk State offensive line is a big reason why.

Top Players Breakdown

# of Players School
6 Norfolk State*
5 Jackson State, Florida A&M*ย 
4 Alabama A&M, Jackson State
2 Bethune-Cookman, Prairie View A&M, North Carolina Central*
1 Delaware State**, Tennessee State*, South Carolina State*, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
0* Hampton*
0 Alabama State, Mississippi Valley State, Alcorn State, Southern, Grambling State, Texas Southern, Howard, Morgan State, North Carolina A&T

*star indicates just missed player that was not counted

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