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HBCU Combine: Braving the Elements to Chase a Dream

The weather in Mobile, Alabama was out of the ordinary, but that didn’t stop the best HBCU players from working out in front of NFL scouts.

The NFL’s unofficial run-up to the NFL Combine began on Saturday with the first-ever HBCU Combine as 40 athletes gathered in Mobile, AL to endure sub-optimal temperatures and give their best tryout in front of NFL scouts. 

Originally, the HBCU Combine was scheduled to debut in 2020 in Miami, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the league paired the event with the Reese’s Senior Bowl, which enables scouts who are traveling for that to stay in Mobile for the HBCU Combine as well. 

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In most cases during January, Mobile, AL stays between 47 and 60 degrees, according to weatherspark.com. However, for the HBCU athletes, the weather was not in their favor. With workouts beginning at 8 a.m. CT, Mobile was a frigid 28 degrees. Many athletes, scouts, and league personnel were quite literally shivering in their boots. 

The NFL can’t control the weather, but let’s face it: Athletes don’t have to worry about the cold at the NFL Combine. While winter in Indianapolis is very much prevalent and much colder than Mobile, the players work out in the domed Lucas Oil Stadium.

Still, many athletes in Mobile were just happy to be invited.

Texas Southern wide receiver Jonathan Giles (Credit: Dan Anderson/AP)

“It means big things and big changes for us and honestly I’m just thankful,” Hampton quarterback Jett Duffey said. “It was nice to be able to get [the scouts] in front of me, it was good to let them know who I am and let them feel my presence.”

Keith Corbin III, a wideout from Jackson State, seconded Duffey’s thoughts:

“It means a lot to be at the first HBCU Combine in history. It’s not as big as the other combine in Indianapolis, but it’s a start,” he said. “Guys were not used [to the cold]. We play down south, we’re not up north or in the middle or any of that so guys were trying to get extra warm to perform for the scouts. 

Jonathan Giles, another wideout from Texas Southern, acknowledged the weather, and indicated that it can’t be used as an excuse.

“It wasn’t traditional but the best football is playoff football and playoff football is mostly played in the cold,” he said. “You’re going to have to one day play in the cold if you want to reach the ultimate goal of playing in the Super Bowl. You get drafted to Green Bay or Minnesota and you’re in the cold all year basically.”

The grateful nature of the HBCU athletes is to be expected. In years prior, they have gone without opportunities to be in front of NFL scouts and showcase their abilities. With over three months until the NFL Draft, many of the prospects still have their Pro Days and the HBCU Legacy Bowl. The NFL has increased the opportunities that HBCU athletes have to be in front of NFL personnel, but the athletes, spectators, and HBCU alumni alike won’t find out until draft day if the league’s strategy will prove successful.