Three HBCU products — Michael Strahan (Texas Southern), Claude Humphrey (Tennessee State) and Aeneas Williams (Southern) — were officially enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday night.
Their paths to the NFL, and then Canton, were all uniquely different.
Strahan, the 2001 AP Defensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl champion with the New York Giants, played only one year of high school football before enrolling at Texas Southern in the early 1990s.
“The improbable happened,” he said. “I got a scholarship from Texas Southern University.”
“It was perfect for me. I didn’t get swallowed up,” Strahan continued. “I had coaches who loved me and cared about me. The thing I learned the most at Texas Southern is that I had to grow up.”
Strahan would go on to be taken in the second round of the 1993 NFL Draft. He would play 15 years in New York and become the franchise leader in sacks and games played.
If Strahan’s rise to NFL stardom could be described as improbable, Humphrey was by accident, he said.
A late bloomer in his own right, Humphrey, who would star for the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles, spoke about how he ended up at Tennessee State.
“But a lot of recruiters came to visit me my senior year, but none like John Merritt,” he said. “John Merritt was the greatest coach in historic black college football.”
“The first thing that came out of my mom’s mouth was, ‘hey, but that Coach Merritt, he’s sure a nice guy. You’re going to like Coach Merritt. He’s going to take care of you.’ And he did. He took care of me,” Humphrey said.
After his stint at Tennessee State, Humphrey would go to the Pro Bowl six times, named an All-Pro five times and was a catalyst on the 1981 Eagles Super Bowl team.
Williams, who played for the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams in a decorated career, was part preacher, part motivational speaker during his 29-minute enshrinement address.
“You see, I was on Southern University’s campus, freshman and sophomore year. And if you had told me ‘Aeneas, you have the potential to be one of the best cornerbacks, or within 24 guys to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a defensive back’ I would have thought you were crazy and hit you with the right hand,” Williams said.
Williams got in-depth about how he walked on to the Southern football team as a junior. A decision that changed his life forever.
“All of a sudden, it entered my heart to walk on the football team a week before the season starts. Made no sense,” he said.
After Southern, Williams was drafted in the third round of the 1991 NFL Draft by the Cardinals.
He finished with 55 interceptions and 23 fumble recoveries during his career. Williams returned nine interceptions for touchdowns, tied for second in NFL history. He scored an astounding 13 touchdowns, which ranks fifth all time among defensive players.
“I didn’t set the goal of being one of the best cornerbacks in the game,” Williams said. “I set a goal to be one of the best husband’s and best men that I could be.”