Jackson State cornerback, Isaiah Bolden, first HBCU player drafted in 2023

"It means a lot to me, carrying the weight of the HBCUs," Bolden told ESPN after the New England Patriots selected him on Saturday.

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259 NFL Draft hopefuls realized their dreams this week as one-by-one, the league’s 32 teams strengthened their rosters with talent from across the college football landscape.

Only one of the players selected in the 2023 draft, 245th pick Isaiah Bolden of Jackson State University, hailed from a historically Black college or university.

“It means a lot to me, carrying the weight of the HBCUs,” Bolden told ESPN after the New England Patriots selected the cornerback on Saturday. “There are a lot of talented guys out there.”

August Pitre #88 of the Southern University Jaguars is tackled by Isaiah Bolden #23 of the Jackson State Tigers during the first half of the SWAC Championship game at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium on December 03, 2022 in Jackson, Mississippi. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)

While efforts to showcase HBCU football players in front of NFL scouts and general managers have increased in recent years with the HBCU Combine and the HBCU Legacy Bowl, the added visibility has yet to manifest into more HBCU athletes hearing their names called on draft day.

According to USA Today, of the 23 NFL Drafts held since 2000, nine of them did not feature a single HBCU player taken, including the 2021 NFL Draft. Four HBCU players were taken in 2022, none before the fourth round.

Bolden, a 6’2”, 203 pound Florida State transfer, said his decision to change schools and play for Deon Sanders at Jackson State in 2020 was to show other star athletes that their professional dreams can be achieved by going the HBCU route.

“I’m taking on the responsibility to show recruits and transfers that you can come to an HBCU and get to the league,” Bolden said of his decision, per ESPN. “Me being a part of that change is a big thing for me.”

A handful of other HBCU players were scooped up by NFL teams after the 2023 draft as undrafted free agents, including fellow Jackson State player Aubrey Miller Jr., Florida A&M’s Isaiah Land, and more, according to HBCU Legends.

However, concerns were voiced by HBCU football players, coaches, alumni and fans throughout the draft regarding the ongoing lack of selections, per HBCU Gameday.

Shortly before Bolden was drafted, but as the draft was reaching the later rounds, Elizabeth City State University receiver Mykul “Prestige” Edwards tweeted his dismay that no HBCU players had been chosen until that point.

“0 HBCU athletes drafted is scary man,” Edwards wrote.

Steve Wyche, an NFL Network reporter and alumni of Howard University, tweeted words of encouragement to current and future HBCU players working toward realizing their goals of playing in the NFL.

“To all the HBCU players that don’t get drafted. Use that as another chip on your shoulder so if you get into a camp, let them know what time it is. Remember, it’s about the opportunity. If you get your foot in the door, earn your keep and wake up all those who slept!”

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