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HBCU Football

The Undefeated’s top 10 HBCU football players to watch

This season three of them play for the defending Celebration Bowl champion N.C. A&T Aggies

It’s time to take a close look at some of the really talented college football players at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). This level of football might not be on TV every weekend, but there are some terrific players on both sides of the ball this season.

These players are big difference-makers, and they’re still going to grab a lot of attention from week to week during the season. That’s what great players do.

Most of these players have already received some national publicity based on what they accomplished last season. And there will be more to come because some of them are just scratching the surface of their skill level. They continue to improve and help their teams with their abilities. Moreover, they’re capable of playing on Sundays. The NFL scouts should watch as much HBCU football as they can.

As for fans of black college football, here are some of the nation’s top football players:

De’Arius Christmas

Grambling State linebacker, 5-foot-10-inch, 220-pound senior

Grambling State linebacker De’Arius Christmas

Courtesy of Grambling State Athletics

De’Arius Christmas has a real nose for the football. He has great anticipation. He can rush the passer. Christmas had 63 total and 33 solo tackles with 12 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks last season. His exploits have even earned him a spot on the Buck Buchanan Award watch list.

Amir Hall

Bowie State quarterback, 6-foot-4-inch, 180-pound senior

Bowie State QB Amir Hall

Courtesy of Lawrence Johnson

Amir Hall, whose nickname is “Showtime,” is one of the best Division II players in the nation. He received the Deacon Jones Trophy as the black college football player of the year and guided Bowie State to a 9-2 regular-season record and to the Division II playoffs. He’s known as a touch passer, but he can hit his receivers in stride on short as well as deep pass routes. Hall put up huge numbers last season, throwing for 3,519 yards and 41 touchdowns.

Patrick Harbin Jr.

Mississippi Valley State linebacker, 6-foot-4-inch, 260-pound senior

Linebacker Patrick Harbin Jr. from Mississippi Valley State University

Courtesy of Southwestern Athletic Conference

Patrick Harbin Jr. is always around the football. With his good size and strength, he is one of the best tacklers in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC). He’s a real leader on defense. Harbin had 89 total and 39 solo tackles and was a feared pass rusher, picking up 4.5 sacks.

Darryl Johnson Jr.

N.C. A&T defensive lineman, 6-foot-5-inch, 232-pound redshirt junior

N.C. A&T defensive end Darryl Johnson

Kevin L. Dorsey/North Carolina A&T Athletics

Darryl Johnson Jr. has tremendous quickness off the ball. He can play the run and get to the quarterback. Johnson had 40 total and 25 solo tackles along with 6.5 sacks. He’s an aggressive playmaker up front for the Aggies, with four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He was named to the Buck Buchanan Award watch list.

Franklin “Mac” McCain

N.C. A&T defensive back, 5-foot-11-inch, 173-pound redshirt sophomore

N.C. A&T defensive back Franklin McCain

Kevin L. Dorsey/North Carolina A&T Athletics

Franklin “Mac” McCain, clearly a rising star in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), had a big impact as a freshman. He had six interceptions and returned three of them for touchdowns. He returned an interception 100 yards against Morgan State. He had 50 total and 37 solo tackles.

Quinn McElfresh

Mississippi Valley State wide receiver, 6-foot-2-inch, 200-pound senior

Wide receiver Quinn McElfresh from Mississippi Valley State University

Courtesy of Southwestern Athletic Conference

Quinn McElfresh has made a lot of big catches in his career and has a knack for finding open spots in the defense. Described as having exceptional hands and good on-the-field concentration, McElfresh led the SWAC with 57 catches for 889 yards and five touchdowns last season. His consistent play makes him a big part of the Delta Devils’ offense.

Caylin Newton

Howard quarterback, 6-foot, 195-pound sophomore

Quarterback Caylin Newton #3 of the Howard Bison looks to throw against the UNLV Rebels during their game at Sam Boyd Stadium on September 2, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Howard won 43-40.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Caylin Newton, whose older brother Cam stars as the quarterback for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, was able to get it done by throwing the ball and running. He threw for 2,432 yards with 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and had 166 carries for 753 yards with 12 rushing touchdowns. A year ago, Newton put Howard on the national map with its 43-40 upset win over UNLV. In that game, Newton had 21 carries for 190 yards and two touchdowns. He also completed 15 of 26 passes for 140 yards and one touchdown. Newton is certainly a player to watch in the MEAC.

Lamar Raynard

N.C. A&T quarterback, 6-foot-4-inch, 200-pound senior

N.C. A&T quarterback Lamar Raynard

Kevin L. Dorsey/North Carolina A&T Athletics

Lamar Raynard is one of the best quarterbacks in the FCS. He throws the football with great accuracy, doesn’t force any throws into the defense and has great patience in the pocket. Raynard is coming off a fantastic season, throwing for 2,932 yards with 27 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. He led the Aggies to a Celebration Bowl victory over Grambling State and a 12-0 record. Raynard has been named to the Walter Payton Award watch list as one of the top Division I-AA athletes.

Davanta Reynolds

N.C. Central defensive back, 5-foot-10-inch, 200-pound senior

North Carolina Central Eagles defensive back Davanta Reynolds (22) defends against Duke tight end Davis Koppenhaver (81).

Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports

Davanta Reynolds, the preseason MEAC Defensive Player of the Year, is a great all-around defender. Last season, he tied for second in the country among FCS schools with six interceptions. He played the run extremely well, tallying 54 total and 35 solo tackles. Reynolds has big-play ability as well. He returned an interception 31 yards for a touchdown and had an 85-yard fumble return for a score.

P.J. Simmons

Alcorn State running back, 5-foot-10-inch, 190-pound senior

Alcorn State running back P.J. Simmons.

Courtesy of Alcorn State Athletics

P.J. Simmons is a great open-field runner and does a fantastic job cutting back against defenders and making big plays. He’s one of the most exciting running backs in the SWAC. Last season, he had 80 carries for 687 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 8.6 yards a carry. He also was named to the Walter Payton Award watch list.

Donald Hunt, a writer for the Philadelphia Tribune, is a longtime ESPN contributor who has covered Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Follow him on Twitter at @DHUNTTRIB.