Hours spent on the sideline on Saturdays are just a fraction of a player’s time. In one week if you add up the amount of hours spent traveling, practicing, lifting weights, attending meetings, going to study hall, and giving interviews,you could say that the football players have a full time job. So, if players can handle the rigorous routine in college, why not try their luck and make a living out of this too? A college football player could think they can handle the fast pace lifestyle of a pro football player because of the similarities in schedules, but it takes much more to make it into the National Football League (NFL).The transition from a Division I-AA school to the NFL is said to be a challenging move. Many draft experts say that regardless of numbers that I-AA players put up, they recognize their level of competition every Saturday. So, regardless if they have high stats-they were still playing against I-AA talent, not I-A talent.Coach Billy Joe, head coach of the Rattler football team, feels there is no difference in I-A talent and I-AA talent. “There have been hundreds of great I-AA student athletes who have made it in the pros and made it super big,” Joe said. “In perspective as to which level of football a student athlete is playing on, if he has professional ability and talent,the NFL and other pro leagues will find him-and he will be an instant success on their level.”
Division I-A vs. I-AAThe difference between Division I-A and Division I-AA schools depends on the programs and competition levels. I-A teams have to meet minimum attendance requirements or be in a member conference in which at least six conference members sponsor football or more than half of football schools meet attendance requirements. Div. I schools also must meet minimum financial aid awards for their athletics program, and there are maximum financial aid awards for each sport. For Div. II institutions, there is not an attendance requirement for football. There are maximum financial aid awards that a Div. II school must not exceed. Div. II teams usually feature a number of local or in-state student athletes. Div. II athletic programs are financed in the institution’s budget like other academic departments on campus. Regardless of the difference in programs, talent is talent. Wherever talent is, scouts are. “Pro scouts are paid bigdollars to find talent,” said Joe. “And if that talent is at a very very small school, they will find it.” Joe feels that the problem with recruitment of I-AA athletes is that most quality Blue Chip student athletes come out of high school and do not attend I-AA schools. “So, it’s more likely that athletes on the I-A level will qualify and have the talent for the pros,” added Joe. Because of those few athletes who came out of I-AA schools and made it to the pros, for example Walter Payton, Nate Newton, and Steve McNair, some Rattler football players have not let negative stereotypes deter them from their dreams of playing in the NFL one day.Standing 6 ft. 3 in.tall, FAMU’s #71, Lamar Demps, from Perry, Fl. has dreamed of playing in the NFL all of his life. He feels it is harder and more of a struggle to get drafted when coming from a I-AA HBCU. He believes most people are confused about the recruitment of athletes. “Some NFL experts and fans think just because athletes decided to pursue their education and play football at I-AA schools means they did not have the talent to play football for a I-A school,” said the 315 lbs. starting guard.”You want to go where you can play. It is all about opportunities,” he continued. “I had a lot of I-A schools trying to recruit me, but I felt FAMU offered me a better scholarship. Instead of red shirting my first year at a I-A school, I had an opportunity to play here at FAMU.””I am just as big and strong as some O-linemen that play for FSU or UF, I just did not choose to go to a I-A school,” stated Demps. “That does not make I-A players better than me, but because of the stereotypes, they have more opportunities.”Lamar also realizes that everyone cannot be drafted into the NFL. “Let’s be realistic, there are 28 teams, and a lot of talented black men who have the same dreams as me,” he stated. “But reality is that we all will not be drafted.”
Dreams of the NFL “An average of one or two players normally go to the league from a I-AA HBCU-and I may be that one!” If Lamar’s dream does not come true, he will utilize his criminal justice degree and open up a chain of security companies.Stephen Brown, also a criminal justice student from Sanford believes that most high school athletes normally look to go to I-A schools. “Miami, Syracuse, and Kentucky were recruiting me, but I had to think about where I should go so that I could be closer to my daughter and also where I would be able to play,” said the 290 lbs. defensive tackle. “With I-A, normally players have to wait a year or two before they can step foot on the field, as opposed to I-AA, players can step up right away and make a difference.”Regardless of the division, one thing that each division player should have is the passion for the game. “Football is also supposed to be fun, I do feel though that there is more concentration in I-A,” Brown said. “I also know a lot of players who are playing I-AA ball could have played on the I-A level, but regardless of the divisions, we all have passion for the game and are here to play football.”Brown believes he still has a fair chance to make it to the pros as opposed to a player from University of Florida “We just need the publicity like the I-A schools, because we definitely have the talent,” Bown said. “And even though, I have aspirations of making it to the NFL, my first goal is to finish school, because the NFL will always be here, and if Godblesses me to have that opportunity, then I will pursue it.”
Hurdles I-AA players must overcomeDemar Bowe, a senior political science student from Hollywood, Florida has already started training for the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, which is a training camp for football players who have a desire to enter the draft. He feels that because of the different publicity each division gets, it makes it harder to make it into the pros from a I-AA school.”In high school, I’ve played against a lot of guys who went to D-I schools, and a lot of the players that went onto D-II schools were and are still better than them,” said the 5’11 wide receiver. “Right now, I am already the same height, and have the average speed that is needed for my position, I am just down a division.”Steve McNair, quarterback for the Tennessee Titans and an Alcorn State graduate, has also been a big inspiration in Bowe’s decision to pursue his dream. “When I was in high school, Steve McNair was my favorite quarterback. So, he has given me a lot of hope in accomplishing my dream, but if my dream does not come true, my goal is to go to law school in Miami,” Bowe said.
Possibility of a merger? Even though, the biggest situation facing I-AA schools are the stereotypes and the stigma players are faced with, another situation that might face both divisions is the decision of merging the two divisions into one.”If you asked a Div. I-AA coach about the merge, you may get a yes to the merge, but if you are talking to a coach from Div. I-A, they will probably say no to the merge, because they do not want a lot of schools sharing in the revenue that major colleges get from bowl games, classics, and TV,” Joe said. “Whereas a Div. II coach would say yes because they want to share in the big revenues, but from a financial standpoint, you can get two different answers but it would be nice to have one big division.”Regardless of the stereotypes that each division has, there is no doubt that there is talent at every school around the country whether it is Div. I, II, or III.