The HBCU was kicked out of the 2021 NFL Draft. Prairie View center Danny Garza hopes to end this drought in 2022

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) would have their own chapter in the NFL history book.

There were 14 HBCU products named to the NFL 100th Anniversary Team, including Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley), Walter Payton (Jackson State) and Deacon Jones (South Carolina State). Those 14 plus 20 others, including Grambling’s Buck Buchanan, the first HBCU product to be first overall in a 1963 draft, were enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But the past is what the HBCU must cling to. There weren’t many gifts. For the first time in the modern era of the game, there was not a single HBCU player drafted by the NFL in 2021. The Willie Laniers, Ken Houstons and Mel Blounts have become rare for black schools in the South.

Prairie View A&M produced NFL 100th Anniversary Team member Houston. The Panthers also sent a prolific passing combination from Jim Kearney and Otis Taylor to the AFL. Both started for the Kansas City Chiefs in their Super Bowl IV upset against the Minnesota Vikings, Kearney at safety and Taylor at wide receiver. And Jim Mitchell became a Pro Bowl tight end for the Atlanta Falcons.

But Prairie View has had just one player drafted in the past 41 years — defensive end Quinton Bell by the Raiders in the seventh round in 2019. His NFL career lasted just five games.

So Danny Garza knows what he’s up against this draft season.

Garza became a walk-in starter for Prairie View at the center as a true freshman in 2017 and stayed there for five years, including the Covid-abbreviated 2020 season. He leaves Prairie View as one of the most decorated players in school history, earning First or Second Team All-SWAC honors in each of his final three seasons.

But Garza has spent a footballing career doing it the hard way. As a Hispanic from southern San Antonio, Garza had only one scholarship offer — from an HBCU school.

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“I’ve never heard of Prairie View and didn’t know what HBCU was,” Garza said. “Going from an all-Hispanic community to an all-Black community was a bit of a culture shock. It was definitely a new experience for me because now I was the minority. But my teammates, my coaches and the school staff were all super welcoming. It was a great atmosphere, a great environment and an uplifting experience. It was just a great place for me.

It was a culture shock that Garza embraced. He thrived both on and off the field at Prairie View, earning a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies and preparing for a master’s degree in educational administration. So if a door doesn’t open for him in professional football, Garza plans to put his upbringing to good use. He would love to return home to San Antonio and teach special education football and coach in high school.

“On the south side, there aren’t too many athletes who reach the second tier,” Garza said. “I want to give these athletes opportunities and guidance – how to train, how to deal with school, how to take care of their bodies, how to do the little things. I want to be the role model that I have always looked for when I was young.

But plan A remains football. Garza was the leading tackler up front in a shotgun offense that allowed the fewest sacks in the SWAC each of the past three seasons — and Prairie View reached the SWAC title game in 2021. He was then invited to play in both the Pigskin Bowl and the inaugural Legacy Bowl, all-star games created to raise awareness in the NFL for HBCU players.

His choice of school and conference now benefits Garza as he seeks to take his game to the next level.

“You become a complete player in SWAC because you’re exposed to so many different defensive styles,” Garza said. “It keeps you on your toes against Grambling and their ‘chaos’ defense, then Southern with their 3-4 looks, then the 4-3 the other schools have to offer.”

Garza came to Prairie View in 2017 as a 6-foot-2, 280-pound player. He was 6-foot-3 and 305 pounds at the Legacy Bowl weigh-ins. His professional day at Prairie View is April 2.

“It’s all I’ve ever wanted since I started playing football – an opportunity to play,” Garza said. “When I have the chance. I ran with this… and I will never let go of this. I want to stay on the pitch as long as possible. There is no such thing.

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