By Lenny Moon
Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
There’s a popular expression that when confronted with a feisty dog that’s resting, “don’t agitate it, just let a sleeping dog chill”. Well if one doesn’t want to fire up the turbo engine of the 5-10 quarterback from north Texas, then don’t suggest that he’s too small to play his position at the highest level. Kyler Cole Murray has been told that most of his athletic existence and apparently when those “too small” words are encountered, it places another log on the fire as if he needed additional inspiration. His father is Kevin Murray, an established collegiate quarterback at Texas A&M (1983-86) who posted an impressive career starting record of 25-6-1 while playing for the Aggies.
While a prep athlete at Allen High School in Allen, Tx, Murray was a three year starter while posting a 42-0 undefeated record and led his team to three consecutive 6-A state titles in the highly competitive Lone Star State battleground. This multi-talented star was arguably equally talented on the baseball diamond as a power hitting infielder thus becoming the first high school performer in history to be selected to both the Under Armour All-American Football as well as the UA All-American Baseball games. Although he could have gone to practically any school in the nation as a two-sport star, he selected his father’s alma mater Texas A&M back in 2015. Murray eventually transferred to Oklahoma and became 2017 Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield backup after honoring the NCAA transfer rule. That following campaign, the Texas native took over the reins and promptly became the best player in the nation by winning the Heisman. In spite of the constant nemesis pertaining to his height deficiency to play the quarterback position at the highest level, Kyler became the first player taken in the 2019 NFL Draft foregoing his last year of eligibility and a commitment from the Oakland As who had invested a $4.66 million signing bonus. Winning has always been an entry on Kyler Murray’s resume.
Cameron Newton, Carolina Panthers
Although injuries have begun to set in the past two seasons, Cameron Jerrell Newton raised his level of expectations early in his NFL career while possessing a 6-5, 250 pound frame to operate with. The Cam Newton story is certainly not one that followed a clear path to stardom in spite of his undeniable physical attributes. A native of the Atlanta, Ga community of Westlake, Newton became a five-star talent and one of the top dual threat quarterbacks in the nation. He chose Florida and became a member of the nation’s top recruiting class in 2007. The Southeastern Conference prospect experienced a felony related incident while in Gainesville his freshman year, cleared that legal hurdle and opted to attend Blinn Jr College in Texas. While there, Cam led the Brenham based two-year institution to the 2009 NJCAA National Football Championship and again elevated himself as a hot recruit by Division I football programs.
Newton returned to the SEC by choosing Auburn as a junior, and wasted no time in asserting himself by leading the team to the conference championship, winning the first BCS National Championship and capped that by becoming the third gridder in school history (along with Pat Sullivan and Bo Jackson) to win the Heisman Trophy in 2010. His ledger read 2,854 passing yards with 30 TDs to go along with 1,473 yards and 20 more TDs. In 2011, Newton became only the third Black quarterback to be selected with first pick of the NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers (Mike Vick by Atlanta in 2001 and JaMarcus Russell in 2007 by Oakland preceded him). He would immediately make his impact felt by starting all 16 games, throwing for 4,051 yards (1st rookie in history to toss for over 4,000 yds) and 21 TDs to go along with 706 rushing yards and 14 TDs. His superman alter-ego was officially out of the closet and had surfaced on the gridirons of his NFL opponents. Four seasons later, the Georgia native rose to the top of his profession by winning the MVP of the league while also leading Carolina to Super Bowl 50. Prior to his accumulation of injuries, Newton was ranked as the top player in the NFL by his peers on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2016.
Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
Rayne Dakota “Dak” Prescott has shown leadership capabilities from the time that he was taking snaps in the small northern Louisiana town of Houghton. Located a short drive from the Shreveport-Bossier City metro, Prescott led Houghton High to the district 1-AAAA title his senior campaign. He attracted attention from the collegiate ranks by throwing for nearly 2,900 yards and 39 TDs while rushing for another 951 yards (only 90 attempts) with 17 TDs. Mississippi State was the beneficiary of Dak’s collegiate decision, landing in Starkville in advance of the 2011 season. Although initially redshirted, he garnered some significant repetitions in 2013, capping off the season with a sparkling MVP effort in the Liberty Bowl defeating Rice 44-7.
The next two seasons Prescott elevated his Bulldogs to a level that had been unchartered prior to his arrival, including the school’s first #1 ranking in 2014. Their 10-2 record and post season Orange Bowl appearance merited a bright spotlight spearheaded by the new sheriff in town. Prescott broke 10 school records during that campaign, earned First Team All-SEC and finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Before he wrapped his collegiate career, Dak left an indelible impression on the school and conference record books. Among them is third in SEC history in total yards (11,153) and fourth in total TDs (107). His fingerprints are plastered on 38 school records. Additionally, he holds the Orange Bowl single game record for passing yards (453), two-time First Team All-SEC and 2016 Senior Bowl MVP among many other accolades.
Dak was selected with the 135th pick of the 2016 NFL Draft in the 4th round by the Dallas Cowboys. The Louisiana native battled his way to the backup quarterback position in training camp, and when starter Tony Romo was felled by injury during the preseason he was inserted as the interim field general to start the season. Prescott was the epitome of preparation meeting opportunity as he played so well that a wobbly Romo was permanently unseated. The Cowboys finished with a 13-3 regular season record. Dak earned NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, selected to his first NFL Pro Bowl and ranked 14th by his peers on the NFL Top 100 Players. Needless to say, he hadn’t looked back since.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks
Russell Carrington Wilson was earmarked as a high achiever at an early stage of his development. His late father Harrison Wilson was a lawyer and a two sport star for Dartmouth and later a receiver for the San Diego Chargers preseason squad in 1980. His paternal grandfather played football and basketball at Kentucky State and later became the president of Norfolk State University. Russ attended the preparatory Collegiate High School in Richmond, Va where he was a two-time All-State gridder his junior and senior campaigns, throwing for over 6,000 yds and 74 TDs; rushing for nearly 1,800 yards and 33 more touchdowns during those two seasons. Wilson elected to remain in the south, choosing North Carolina State of the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2007.
Wilson left his mark at NC State as a two sport star capped off by a sterling 2010 season when he led the 9-4 Wolfpack to a 23-7 Champs Sports Bowl over West Virginia. That same campaign, the dual threat signal caller led the ACC in passing yds per game (274.1) and total offense yds per game (307.5). These feats merited him runner-up to ACC Player of the Year before graduating in three years with a BA in communication and was a grad student before transferring to Wisconsin of the Big 10 Conference. Prior to making his decision of remaining a collegiate quarterback, Wilson had entertained the Major League Baseball offer from the Colorado Rockies. Once in Madison, Wisconsin, Russ picked up where he left off by throwing for 3,175 yds with 33 TDs (Badger single season record) and rushed for 6 more TDs earning 1st Team All Big Ten.
At 5-11, 210 Wilson was considered too short to parlay his collegiate accomplishments on the next level but was still drafted by Seattle with the 75th pick of the 3rd round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Never being one to shy away from a challenge, Russ promptly asserted himself with the Seahawks becoming a starter during his maiden voyage, tossing 3,118 yards and 26 TDs while rushing for 489 yds and 4 TDs leading his team to the postseason with an 11-5 record. His first taste of the NFL Playoffs was a 24-14 NFC Wild Card Round victory over Washington before narrowly losing to Atlanta in the next round 30-28 in spite of passing for 385 yards and rushing for 60 more in defeat. In only his second season of pro ball, Wilson led his team to a 13-3 regular season record, NFC West champions, No 1 seed throughout the playoffs, and ultimately a berth in Super Bowl XLVIII vs the Denver Broncos. The Seahawks overwhelmed their opponent 43-8 as Seattle’s signal caller became the shortest QB to lead his team to the championship during the Super Bowl era at 5 foot 11 (Len Dawson, Joe Theismann and Drew Brees are listed at 6’0”). The Virginia native has led his team to two Super Bowls (in his first three seasons) and six playoff appearances in his first seven years as the field general of the Seahawks. And if the start of the 2019 campaign is any indication, lookout once again for Seattle in the postseason led by their future Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay
Success came early for the 6-4, 230 Birmingham, Al area product Jameis Lanaed Winston. While at Hueytown High the dual threat quarterback was considered the top recruit at his position in the nation, leading his 6-A high school to the Alabama state championship his junior year. He also starred in baseball, drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 2012 Major League Baseball Draft. Elevating himself amongst the top tier of the high school recruits in the country, he selected Florida State. Winston was redshirted behind resident starter E.J. Manuel and was given the keys the following season as starter of the Seminoles entering the 2013 campaign.
Winston hit the ground running, completing 25 of 27 tosses and five total TDs in a 41-17 victory Pittsburgh. This would serve notice to the college football world as FSU would take an undefeated 13-0 record into the 2014 BCS National Championship Game vs Auburn. On his 20th birthday, Jameis led the Seminoles to a 34-31 victory, throwing for 235 yards and two TD passes including the game-winner with only 0:13 remaining to secure the title as a freshman. The first year starter led the ACC in passing with 4,057 yards and 40 TDs (both conference freshman records). And to add the cherry to the sundae, he became only the second freshman and the youngest in history to win the coveted Heisman Trophy. He would continue his winning ways by leading FSU to a second 13-0 undefeated regular season before losing to Oregon in the 2014 Rose Bowl thus finishing his collegiate career with a 26-1 mark.
After foregoing his final two years of eligibility, Winston was the first player selected in the 2015 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This represented the fourth Black quarterback taken with the draft’s first pick (Kyler Murray was taken 1st in the most recent 2019 NFL Draft to become the 5th).Although he experienced a somewhat roller coaster level of success as a professional signal caller, the Alabama native is the first QB in NFL history to pass for over 4,000 yards in his first two seasons in the league. In 2016, Winston led the Bucs to their first winning season in six years and the following year became the second youngest field general to reach the 10,000 career yardage plateau in league history.
At press time, New Orleans Saints reserve quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was taking snaps as the starter, leading his team to five consecutive victories spelling injured star Drew Brees, Drafted by the Minnesota Vikings with the 32nd pick of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Louisville, Bridgewater suffered a career threatened non-contact ACL injury in 2016. Following a brief stint with the New York Jets, the Miami native was traded to the Saints in 2018 and is currently working under a one-year contractual agreement with New Orleans.
By Lenny Moon
This is Part I of our essay about the evolution of the starting quarterbacks of African American decent that’s proving given an opportunity can evolve to the top level of their chosen profession. Each segment is an indication that their respective pedigree reflects winning has always been a part of their development. At the time of publication, there were nine Black starting signal callers (4 AFC and 5 NFC). The AFC starters are featured here with the NFC starters to be profiled in a future edition of the series.
Jacoby Brissett, Indianapolis Colts
If there was ever an athlete that understood the formula of taking advantage of an opportunity when there’s an opening it’s Jacoby Jajuan Brissett. Ranked as the third best dual threat quarterback as a prep athlete (Palms Beach Gardens-Florida), Brissett selected his home state University of Florida coming out of high school. Relegated to backup duties there, the 6-4 signal caller opted to transfer to North Carolina State. After sitting out a year due to transfer rules, he stepped into the starting position for the Wolfpack his final two campaigns averaging 2600 passing yds, 22 TDs while completing 60% of his tosses and earned NFL Draft considerations. Jacoby was selected in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft (fifth QB taken) by the New England Patriots. After serving as a backup to Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady his first seasons, the Florida native’s break to take more NFL snaps occurred early the following year.
The Pats traded Brissett to the Indianapolis Colts who were in dire need of a quarterback to spell their injured star Andrew Luck. Although not having the benefit of a training camp and forced to learn a totally new system on the fly, Brissett still threw for over 3,000 yds with 13 TDs vs only 7 int, and completed 59% of his passes in 2017. Once again postering himself in a position where he nudged himself closer to good fortune the unexpected happened. When Luck returned last season to enjoy perhaps his best statistical year as a pro, he abruptly retired just before the start of the current regular season opening the door for Jacoby to settle in and show the league that he was ready for the task. Based on his early his early reviews as the starting quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, Jacoby Brissett has once again met opportunity head-on.
Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens
There are mercurial athletes that come along from time to time that captures the imagination of the gridiron world who has the ability to convert routine plays to highlight reels. One such football player is Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. A product of the University of Louisville, Jackson began to penetrate the national spotlight by starting 8 of 12 games as a true freshman while passing for 1,840 yds and 12 TDs and rambling for 960 yds and 11 TDs in. He capped his initial campaign by throwing for 227 yds and 2 TDs and set a Music City Bowl record by rushing for 226 yds and two more scores in a 27-21 victory over Texas A&M in 2015. There was no looking back from there, winning the Heisman Trophy over DeShaun Watson and Baker Mayfield as a sophomore and finishing third in the voting his junior year.
Foregoing his senior yr, Jackson was not considered a dual threat quarterback by the NFL but more of a runner with questionable passing skills. Jackson was still very much a prospect but not as a signal caller. Eventually five players at his position were selected ahead of Lamar before being taken by the Baltimore Ravens with the 32nd pick of the first round in the 2018 NFL Draft. The rookie saw spot duty for his new team until veteran starter Joe Flacco was injured along the mid-season part of their schedule. Led by Jackson, the struggling Ravens squeezed into the playoffs by winning 6 of their last 7 games. Flacco departed to Denver during the offseason as the team’s commitment was to their 22-year old rising star. Lamar launched his 2019 campaign with a career-high 324 passing yds on 17 of 20 tosses and five touchdowns in a 59-10 win over Miami. Early returns suggest that former Ravens General Mgr Ozzie Newsome and the brain thrust of that franchise vision of Jackson is on the realm of “20-20”.
No football player in recent memory has exploded on the National Football League scene the likes of this product of a small town in East Texas. Located 11 miles southeast of Tyler, Patrick Lavon Mahomes II was a dual threat quarterback at Whitehouse High in Whitehouse, Tx. His exceptional athletic talents surfaced in both football and baseball. Baseball was imbedded in his DNA in that his father Patrick Mahomes Sr pitched 12 years of pro ball for several ball clubs, spending his longest stint with the Minnesota Twins.
While at Whitehouse, Mahomes Jr closed out his prep days by throwing for 4619 yds, 50 TDs and rushed for 948 yds and 15 touchdowns his senior campaign. In baseball, he pitched a no-hitter while striking out 16 and was actually drafted by the Detroit Tigers. Recruiting service MaxPreps named him their Male Athlete of the Year for 2013-14. Patrick Jr was only getting started as he chose to remain in his homestate to attend Texas Tech University. As a freshman at the Lubbock based institution, Mahomes took over the reins about midseason and proved to the coaching staff that this was the right decision as he posted a Big 12 freshman record of 598 yds with six touchdowns and only one interception in a victory over Baylor.
Before he would hang up his spikes at Texas Tech, he led the nation in passing his junior year by passing for 5,052 yds and 41 TDs (including a NCAA record 734 yds vs Oklahoma and Baker Mayfield in a 66-59 defeat). In his three year collegiate career, he posted a whopping 11,252 yds and 93 touchdowns before declaring for the NFL Draft. If his collegiate career wasn’t impressive enough, the Texas gunslinger was named 2nd Team Academic All-American while in Lubbock. Mahomes was selected with the 10th pick of the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs. After backing resident signal caller Alex Smith his rookie season, the veteran was traded to Washington the following year clearing the way for the cyclone that was embarking upon the NFL.
Mahomes stepped right in and lit up the league with 5,097 passing yds, 50 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and was named the 2018 NFL Most Valuable Player. If the start of the 2019 season in any indication, the 6-3 230 rifle-armed field general has picked up where left off last season while taking the league by storm at 23 yrs of age.
A winner is described as one that is successful through praiseworthy ability and hard work. This would be an adequate location to begin the discussion of Derrick DeShaun Watson. A native of Gainesville, Ga (55 miles NW of Atlanta), Watson earned the distinction of becoming the first freshman to win the starting quarterback position at Gainesville High School. Apparently head coach Bruce Miller recognized a winner when he crossed one as Watson would launch a prep career that would re-write most of the passing and rushing standards by a quarterback in the history of the state of Georgia. Led by DeShaun, Gainesville High became a perennial state power, winning the title his junior campaign.
Before he hung up his high school spikes, Watson set state records in total yards (17,134), total touchdowns (218), career passing yards (13,077) and career passing touchdowns (155). As a sidebar, he also rushed for 4,057 and 63 touchdowns for the 5-A high school. Needless to say, DeShaun was on every collegiate radar screen and had risen to ESPN’s top quarterback recruit in 2014. He selected Clemson (about 84 miles from Gainesville) where they immediately showed their appreciation by un-retiring the #4 jersey honored to former signal caller Steve Fuller. Watson took that now un-retired jersey and gradually won the starting spot his freshman year. Although that season was injury plagued, he splashed onto the scene with a school record six touchdown tosses while throwing for 435 yards in a 50-35 victory over North Carolina.
A healthy Watson led his Tigers to an undefeated regular season his sophomore year, eventually losing to Alabama 45-40 in a classic championship game. Leaving it all on the field, he threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another 73 yards, also finishing third in the Heisman Trophy balloting (behind Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey). This represented the first time in the storied history of Clemson football that one of their gridders had earned Heisman finalist status. Proving that his early success was no illusion, Watson led Clemson to the #1 team in the country and once again met Alabama in the championship for all of the marbles the next season. This time the outcome would be different as the All-American QB led his team to a 35-31 victory, throwing for 420 yards and three touchdowns against the top defense in the country. He would again come up short in the Heisman voting as Lamar Jackson of Louisville walked away with the prize.
After foregoing his senior year of eligibility, DeShaun was taken by the Houston Texans with the 12th pick overall of the 2017 NFL Draft and the third quarterback selected behind Mitch Trubisky (2nd) and Patrick Mahomes (10th). Now in his third season as a NFL starting quarterback, Watson posted a ledger that reads 4,165 passing yards with 26 TDs and 551 rushing yards and 5 TDs leading his team to an 11-5 record and an AFC South title,while earning his first Pro Bowl appearance. Watson and his Texans are now projected to improve upon his breakout NFL campaign and no doubt his team will go only as far as he leads them.
By Lenny Moon
In August of 2006, Harold Warren Moon became the first and only Black quarterback inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Los Angeles, Ca native spent his first six pro seasons in the Canadian Football League where he led the Edmonton team to five consecutive championships.
During his 17 NFL seasons, Moon passed for nearly 50,000 yards (49,325), 291 touchdowns, nine 3,000 yard passing seasons, four 4.000 yard passing seasons and selected to the Pro Bowl nine times. While with the Eskimoes of the CFL, the prolific field general threw for 21,228 yards and 144 touchdowns. He holds the distinction of being the only pro football player in history to be inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame as well as the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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By Lenny Moon
During the 1998 and 1999 collegiate football campaigns, the Tennessee State Tigers, spearheaded by head coach L.C. Cole and offensive coordinator Johnnie Cole won consecutive Ohio Valley Conference titles as the only Black program in the traditional White conference. The brothers inherited a program that had 9 losing seasons in 10 years prior to their arrival. The Cole-led TSU Tigers compiled 4-7 records his first two seasons, including 4-3 vs OVC opponents. With Tennessee State being the only historically Black institution in the conference annals, the Tigers rose to the occasion during Cole’s third season at the helm with a 9-3 season record and finishing atop of the standings with a 6-1 campaign.
The 1998 OVC championship victory represented the first by an HBCU in the history of the conference, and the only time that this feat had been achieved by any Black program in a historically White league. In Cole’s fourth and final year at the Nashville, Tn based institution, he led his Tigers to their second consecutive OVC championship with an 11-1 season record and again finishing on top of the conference with an undefeated 7-0 mark. Although it’s been over two decades since Tennessee entered the history books with their late 90’s success on the gridiron, it’s barely penetrated the radar screen on the national sports landscape. Cole would earn OVC Coach of the year honors in both 1998 & 99 and was the 1-AA National Coach of the Year to cap off their second straight title.