The Harlon Hill Trophy is the most prestigious award in Division II football, hailed as an equivalent to the Heisman trophy.
Although the award is not specific to offensive players, they are most likely to win it, with 34 of the 35 previous winners being skill position players on offense.
Running backs have an excellent track record of winning the award, yielding 11 winners, with the most recent running back — Franklyn Quiteh of Bloomsburg — winning in 2013.
The one thing missing, however, in the award’s history is a winner from the HBCU ranks. There have been players that have come close, most notably Bowie State quarterback Amir Hall who finished fourth in the voting in 2018.
This season, there is a good chance that we could finally crown a Harlon Hill Trophy winner in Virginia Union running back Jada Byers.
Let’s examine why Byers should not only be in consideration for the Harlon Hill Trophy but why he should be the frontrunner and ultimately win the award.
Byers has, without a doubt, been the top running back in Division II all season, leading the country in rushing yards (1,669) and all-purpose yards (1,951). He also ranks third in total points scored (120.0) and fourth in rushing touchdowns (18).
WHAT HASN’T BEEN TALKED ABOUT ENOUGH IN OUR OPINION IS JADA BYERS CROWNING HIMSELF AS THE NEW SINGLE SEASON RUSHING RECORD HOLDER!!! @VAUnion1865 @VUU_Football HE NOW STANDS IN A CATEGORY OF HIS OWN CURRENTLY AT 1,660 YARDS GOING INTO WEEK 10!!! pic.twitter.com/jUH8vFlBJl
— Chris Lamrod (@CIAANEWSFEED) October 31, 2022
He is over 700 yards ahead of the second-leading rusher in the CIAA and over 200 yards ahead of the second-leading rusher in all of Division II, with the same going for all-purpose yards.
The Panthers sophomore has recorded 100 rushing yards in all but one game, including a 319-rushing-yard performance against Valdosta State, setting a new school record.
By virtue of his 108 rushing yards against Chowan, he set a new Virginia Union school record for rushing yards in a season.
His success on the ground is a big reason the Panthers got off to their hottest start in school history, winning their first eight games of the season.
Prior to Byers manning the backfield for Virginia Union, it was Taybus Taylor who held that position to great success. His best season came in 2018 when he recorded 1,546 rushing yards (1,962 all-purpose yards), scoring 23 touchdowns in ten games.
Last season, Bowie State running back Calil Wilkins was named one of eight finalists for the Harlon Hill trophy. Wilkins accounted for 1,331 rushing yards (1,472 all-purpose yards), scoring ten touchdowns in 14 games.
In 2017, former Virginia State running back and current member of the Tennessee Titans Trenton Cannon had arguably the best season for an HBCU running back in the past decade. He finished with 1,638 rushing yards (2,699 all-purpose yards), scoring 22 total touchdowns in 11 games.
By comparison, Byers’ numbers not only add up, but he surpasses them, and he still has one more game to go in the season.
The Panthers still have a path to the CIAA championship game despite losing to Chowan last weekend. They need a win over Virginia State and Chowan to lose to Elizabeth City State.
Should they pull it off and clinch a berth in the conference title game, it will certainly help Byers’ case. However, should this scenario fall through, Byers then has a chance to add to his numbers with an at-large bid in the Division II playoffs.
If there is any season that an HBCU player finally breaks through the glass ceiling and wins the Harlon Hill Trophy, it would be Jada Byers due to what has been a dominant run with potentially more to come.
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