“Everything that you can dream about, it can happen right here on ‘The Highest of Seven Hills.’”
Those words said by FAMU coach Willie Simmons summarize the mindset of all who come to Florida A&M to play football.
FAMU has been lacking player presence in the National Football League since 2016, when receiver Brian Tyms was with the New England Patriots during their Super Bowl run in the 2014-15 season.
Times have changed, thanks in no small part to Simmons. There are now two former Rattlers on NFL active rosters and another is on an NFL practice squad.
Markquese Bell, a 2021 FAMU graduate, was a star player for the football team from 2018-2021. He earned First-team All-MEAC honors in 2019, before the 2021 conference change, and 2021 first-team All-SWAC honors during his final season in 2021.
Bell went undrafted in the 2022 NFL Draft, but later signed an undrafted free agent deal with the Cowboys in May 2022. From there he went to the team’s training camp, where he eventually earned a spot on the 53-man Cowboys roster.
Bell is currently doing well with the Cowboys. He is third on the team in total tackles for the season after notching eight and a forced fumble in their season-opening win against the New York Giants.
Bell laid the blueprint for Rattlers with the same NFL dreams to come behind him and succeed.
Isaiah Land, a 2023 FAMU graduate, is currently with the Indianapolis Colts. While at FAMU, Land won the Buck Buchanan Award, given to the best defensive player in the (FCS) Football Championship Subdivision.
Isaiah Major played alongside Land last season, and he is now leading the defense for the Rattlers.
As defensive leader, Major was selected to the Preseason All-SWAC first team and has been making plays for the team all season.
After being with Bell, Major realizes he has the potential to make it to the next level from FAMU. He approaches every game with the mindset that the best is yet to come.
“It’s a childhood dream of mine to make it to the NFL. So, God willing, they let me in there I’ll be beyond grateful,” Major said.
Xavier Smith, a 2021 FAMU graduate, is now with the Los Angeles Rams on their practice squad. Before Smith joined the Rams, he was the Rattlers’ receiving corps leader, carrying the group from the front with over 1,000 receiving yards during the 2022 season.
Smith went on to pursue his professional dreams after last season, leaving the offense with a gaping hole in terms of production that needed to be replaced.
Thanks to the transfer portal, the Rattlers landed Tallahassee native Marcus Riley from Bethune Cookman.
Riley came in with expectations to immediately make an impact.
“He [Smith] had some big shoes to fill. So, I had to basically come in and fill his big shoes,” Riley said. “And coach put me up to it, so I got to stand up to that standard.”
The rise of FAMU, in both athletics and academics, can lead to better recruits coming to play for the school. After three to four years of putting their names in the NFL Draft for professional scouts to truly evaluate them. Thus, ultimately leading to more Rattlers in the NFL.
“You want to play in the NFL? We’ve got three guys doing that right now. You want to go to a top academic institution? It was just released that we’re a top 100 institution nationally,” Simmons said about his recruiting pitches to student-athletes.
“All the things that high school student-athletes dream about when they look at colleges, you can do those things here at FAMU,” Simmons added.