Indianapolis Colts rookie Darius Leonard from South Carolina State is a leading candidate for the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award. (273443)

Anyone who tuned in to the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl last weekend on ABC or was part of the 31,672 fans in attendance at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta can affirm that Black college football is alive and well.

The North Carolina A & T Aggies and Alcorn State Braves continued a proud tradition of high quality play established by some of the sport’s all-time greats in a classic performance. The Aggies, Black college football’s preseason No. 1 ranked team, fulfilled their promise by defeating the Braves by 24-22.

The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference power took home their second straight Celebration Bowl title and earned their third No. 1 ranking in the past four seasons in Black college football’s final polls. The Aggies were also a fixture in the overall NCAA top 20 Football Championship Subdivison polls as they concluded the regular season 10-1.

Alcorn State has been the class of the Southwestern Athletic Conference in recent years, winning three titles over the past five seasons. The Braves were the No. 2 team in the closing polls, followed by Southern University at No. 3, Grambling at the No. 4 position and Bethune Cookman in the No. 5 spot.

Although the depth of talent is not as it was in decades past when Historically Black Colleges and Universities produced 29 Pro Football Hall of Famers the likes of Mel Blount (Southern University), Willie Davis (Grambling), Bob Hayes (Florida A & M), Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State) and Michael Strahan (Texas Southern), HBCU alumni are still making an impact on the NFL level.

Two of the most prominent are Tarik Cohen, a running back for the Chicago Bears, and linebacker Darius Leonard of the Indianapolis Colts. Cohen, a 2017 fourth round pick from North Carolina A & T, has emerged as one of the most dynamic running backs in the NFL, while Leonard, a second round selection of the Colts in last April’s draft, is a leading candidate for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.