The Pittsburgh Steelers have the honor of watching three of their own enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame later this year. Former safety Troy Polamalu will be enshrined as part of the five-player modern segment of the class, a first-ballot choice. Joining him as part of the 15-person Centennial slate are safety Donnie Shell, party of the 1970s dynasty, and former head coach Bill Cowher, who brought the franchise its fifth Super Bowl in 2005.
As it turns out, they are not the only Steelers being honored at a Hall of Fame ceremony this year. Javon Hargrave will be at the Black College Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony this weekend to receive the honor of the Black College Football Pro Player of the Year Award, given annually to a professional player who attended a Historically Black College or University (HBCU).
Hargrave is a product of South Carolina State, a small-school HBCU wherein he displayed his dominance well enough to get the Steelers to step out of character in drafting a small-school player within the first two days of the draft. He was a third-round selection in 2016 and made an immediate impact.
While there, he twice earned the SBN Defensive Player of the Year Award, which is named after Steelers Pro Football Hall of Famer Mel Blount, who was one of several prominent players from their dynasty era (Shell being another) to come out of the HBCU system.
“That is one of the reasons I loved going to my school, just seeing all of the great players we had that came from my school and wanting to be one of those greats one day, wanting to be in the NFL”, Hargrave said upon hearing the news. “It’s so great for South Carolina State. I am so happy for Donnie Shell. He is someone my dad looked up to. It’s a great feeling”.
Shell was also a graduate of South Carolina State. He is one of the most notable products of the school at the NFL level, alongside Deacon Jones and Harry Carson. Some truly talented players have come from there. The most recent player is 2018 Defensive Rookie of the Year and All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard of the Indianapolis Colts.
Among those who will be enshrined into the Black College Football Hall of Fame over the weekend is Robert Mathis, who paired with the great Dwight Freeney in a very formidable tandem for the Colts during Peyton Manning’s time.
Mathis was a product of Alabama A&M. He is arguably their second-most distinguished NFL alumnus, behind Steelers great John Stallworth. Stallworth was a fourth-round pick in 1974, available so deep into the draft simply because a lot of teams at the time did not properly scout HBCUs.
Thanks to Bill Nunn, Pittsburgh did, and they helped turn that resource into key pieces of their dynasty. They haven’t delved into HBCUs nearly as much as they used to, but they really hit on Hargrave, so it’s appropriate to see him honored.