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Celebrating Black History Month: A look at the Broncos' connections to HBCUs

As we celebrate Black History Month, DenverBroncos.com is looking back on the Broncos' connections to Historically Black Colleges and Universities. You may find some names you already know, like Shannon Sharpe, but there are probably many more names you haven't seen before. But regardless, they're all names worth knowing — these players forever connect the Broncos with the educational institutions that have devoted themselves toward serving African-Americans since the era of segregation.

Alabama A&M University

  • RB Oliver Ross, 1973-75

Alcorn State University

  • LB Dave Washington, 1970-71
  • TE Boyd Brown, 1974-76
  • DB Elliot Smith, 1990
  • WR Cedric Tillman, 1992-94
  • LB Louis Green, 2004-08
  • LB Lee Robinson, 2010

Allen University

  • E John Cash, 1961-62

University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff

  • LB Gene Jeter, 1965-67 (also played at Texas Southern)

Bethune-Cookman University

  • WR Jerry Simmons, 1971-74
  • RB Al Haywood, 1975
  • DB Roger Jackson, 1982-87

Delaware State University

  • DE Steve Coleman, 1974

Elizabeth City State University

  • E Jim Greer, 1960

Florida A&M University

  • HB Al Frazier, 1961-63
  • FB/TE Hewritt Dixon, 1963-65
  • FL Al Denson, 1964-70
  • TE Andre White, 1967
  • G Don Smith, 1967
  • C Buzz Highsmith, 1968-69
  • WR Ray Alexander, 1984
  • T Jamie Brown, 1995-97

Denson, who was selected to the Broncos Top 100 Team, was a sixth-round pick by Denver in the 1964 AFL Draft. He led the team in receiving yards in four seasons and ranks 11th in franchise history in career touchdown receptions. He was a two-time AFL All-Star.

Fort Valley State University

  • DE Leroy Moore, 1964-65
  • CB Tyrone Poole, 2002
  • P Marquette King, 2018

Grambling State University

  • LB Leon Simmons, 1963
  • CB Willie Brown, 1963-66
  • DB Nemiah Wilson, 1965-67
  • DB Goldie Sellers, 1966-67
  • RB Henry Jones, 1969
  • DE Bruce Radford, 1979

Brown began his Hall of Fame career in Denver, where he was a two-time AFL All-Star and a one-time first-team All-AFL selection. But the Broncos traded him to Oakland after just four seasons. With the Raiders, Brown continued to flourish; he added seven AFL All-Star or Pro Bowl nods and four first-team All-AFL or All-Pro selections. He was named a member of the NFL 100 All-Time Team in 2019.

Hampton University

  • DL Chris Baker, 2009

Howard University

  • CB Steve Wilson, 1982-88
  • S Billy Jenkins, 2000-01

Jackson State University

  • WR Tony Kimbrough, 1993-94

Morgan State University

  • CB Bob Wade, 1970
  • S/WR Alvin Mitchell, 1970
  • S Maurice Tyler, 1973-74

Morris Brown College

  • S George Atkinson, 1979
  • S Nick Ferguson, 2003-07

Norfolk State University

  • HB Alex Moore, 1968

North Carolina A&T University

  • CB Cornell Gordon, 1970-72

North Carolina Central University

  • G Ernie Barnes, 1963-64
  • CB Myron Dupree, 1983

Savannah State University

  • TE Shannon Sharpe, 1990-99, 2002-03

Sharpe, of course, is one of the most prolific players in franchise history. Before being enshrined as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2011, Sharpe was an eight-time Pro Bowler, four-time first-team All-Pro and won three Super Bowls. When he retired in 2003, he was the NFL's all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns by a tight end.

South Carolina State University

  • DE Barney Chavous, 1973-85
  • WR/PR Zach Thomas, 1983-84
  • S Rafael Bush, 2011
  • TE Temarrick Hemingway, 2018

Southern University

  • DE Rich "Tombstone" Jackson, 1967-72
  • DE Alden Roche, 1970
  • LB Godwin Turk, 1976-78
  • G/T Gerald Perry, 1988-90
  • RB Jeff Alexander, 1989-92

"I tell you, it's unbelievable to have gone to an HBCU," Jackson told DenverBroncos.com's Aric DiLalla in 2019. "I've taken some classes at some other schools, like graduate classes and other corresponding classes and everything, and just the atmosphere — if you just have to deal with the atmosphere — was different. I go to most of Southern's home games, and it's just like Day 1 when I first went up there from out of high school. The camaraderie. It's just different.

"... It taught us how to navigate through society, making decisions, how to prepare yourself for the long haul," Jackson said. "Even today, I don't think some of the kids there would go to other schools would have received what I received in terms of being able to navigate and present yourself and be able to deal with some of the things that I have encountered along the way. Just speaking to some of the guys who have gone to so-called integrated schools, they don't have the same mindset that I have. They have not had the same preparation that I've had, and even today, I'm able to go into any setting and be successful, able to speak with anyone in any setting and any environment and not have a feeling that I would be less than anyone, that I was less educated than anyone, because you have an opportunity to be nurtured."

St. Augustine's University

  • E Ike Lassiter, 1962-64

Tennessee State University

  • DE Chuck Gavin, 1960-63
  • CB Bill West, 1972
  • CB Randy Fuller, 1994
  • DE Dan Williams, 1993-96
  • CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, 2013

Texas Southern University

  • LB Gene Jeter, 1965-67 (also played at Arkansas-Pine Bluff)
  • CB Leroy Mitchell, 1971-73
  • CB Lonnie Hepburn, 1974

Tuskegee University

  • LB Ken Woodard, 1982-86

Other notable connections

Prior to the AFL-NFL merger, the Broncos also selected "Bullet" Bob Hayes, a future Hall of Famer who would have fallen under this category, from Florida A&M. But the Dallas Cowboys also drafted Hayes in the competing NFL Draft, and Hayes opted to play in the NFL instead. Hayes, who had also been an Olympic track star, proceeded to become a three-time Pro Bowler, two-time first-team All-Pro and a Super Bowl champion with the Cowboys.

Former Broncos running back Billy Joe played in Denver for two seasons and was the AFL's 1963 Rookie of the Year. After seven years in the NFL, Joe began a coaching career that would land him in the Black College Football Hall of Fame and in the College Football Hall of Fame. Joe finished his coaching career with a 245-157-4 record and won two NAIA Division I Championship games.

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