St. Louis BattleHawks: Former HBCU Running Back Lenard Tillery Looks for Redemption in XFL

Once upon a time, the HBCU sent many football players into the NFL. Actually, nearly 10 percent of the inducted Hall of Famers are from the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). Famed Grambling coach Eddie Robinson sent over 200 players into professional football including the National Football League. “Coaching is a profession of love. You can’t coach people unless you love them,” Robinson once said. He’s one of the pioneers who helped put HBCU schools on the map. And the future may lead back to the past to rebirth the legendary status that once existed.

The XFL Is giving a Rare Second Chance to HBCU Players

In case you haven’t heard, another professional league will be born soon. In February, the XFL 2020 will reboot to see if this time around, the desire for more football after January can prosper. But this story is not so much about the XFL as it is about the untapped market of the many HBCU fans around the country.

The questions linger as far as what happened to all the mystique for playing for an HBCU school like Grambling, Florida A&M, or Southern. The NFL Hall of Fame is represented by nearly 10 percent, which was mentioned earlier. Now, it’s hard to find one on an active roster.

“If you go back to the 1960s and 1970s, African-American athletes really didn’t have much of a choice, and that really made for an extremely high level of talent at the HBCUs,”-Jason Cable, senior associate commissioner for administration at the SWAC. 

This is one theory held by some of the people still involved in marketing the HBCU schools to younger players. Ironically, integration had an adverse effect on the HBCU football programs. With the countless choices for students coming into college after the mid-1970s, the HBCUs struggled to keep up.

Opportunity Knocks for the HBCU

This where the XFL can come in. In 2020, the opportunity is there for players from HBCU schools. Former Southern Jaguar Lenard Tillery is one of them. Tillery was a standout at Southern becoming a member of the Southern and SWAC Hall of Fame. He went from being a walk-on to an all-out legend in Baton Rouge. Now he’s taking his talents to the St. Louis Battle Hawks in the XFL. Tillery is attempting to follow some of the greats in the history of the NFL.

Just in case the SWAC doesn’t sound familiar—names like Jerry Rice, Mel Blount, or even Walter Payton should ring a bell. All were from respective schools part of the SWAC including Mississippi Valley, Southern, and Jackson State.

Don’t Sleep on the Talent

Unfortunately, the lack of resources poured into scouting for HBCU schools has dropped off. And there’s plenty of blame to go around. Still, it’s possible to hit the jackpot—Chad Williams did from Grambling in the 2017 NFL Draft. Williams was the first player since 2006 that was drafted from Grambling since Jason Hatcher in 2006 for the Dallas Cowboys.

Still, the belief is the talent at the HBCU schools has significantly diminished since the glory days. Of course, times were different 30-40 years ago. However, now is the time for a rebirth from a forgotten stomping ground for talented football players. Lenard Tillery is just one player who hopes to make his mark playing for the St. Louis Battlehawks. The XFL could be the last shot for many of these players, looking to get that one moment to prove they can play with anyone.

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