Nov. 30, 2010
FAYETTEVILLE, NC - Jeremy Cunningham insists he isn't nervous.
Not about competing against some of the best HBCU players from across the country. Not about the grind of a week's worth of practice and activities that are lined up for him. Not about playing in the Georgia Dome.
Not even about performing drills in front of NFL scouts.
"I'm not nervous," says Cunningham, a senior Fayetteville State linebacker from Casa Grande, CA, about being chosen to play in the 2010 HBCU All-Star Bowl on Dec. 18. "I'm more excited. Hopefully I can perform well, put up good numbers and impress the pro scouts at the combine and in the game. If I can do that, it will all work itself out."
Cunningham led the CIAA in tackles from wire-to-wire this season, racking up 13 tackles in the season-opener against N.C. Pembroke before an 18-tackle performance against Elizabeth City State on Sept. 18. He finished the season as the only CIAA defender with more than 100 tackles, with 107, and added 11 tackles for loss, two sacks and four fumble recoveries, including one for a touchdown. At the end of the season, he was named to the All-CIAA First Team for his performance, and ranked 12th nationally in total tackles in Division II.
"He's a great selection," says Fayetteville State head coach Kenny Phillips. "He had an outstanding football season for us, and to be selected to this bowl game just shows what his peers and coaches in the conference think of him as a football player."
Cunningham's success on the field for the Broncos got him the invite to the HBCU Bowl, but it is that same success that allows him to stay even keel about the opportunity. Cunningham has spoken to former Broncos' players who have appeared in the bowl to get an idea of what to expect in his time in Atlanta, which will include a week's worth of practices with the East team as well as several community service projects in the area.
The scouting combine will take place from 8 a.m.-noon on Monday, Dec. 13, a day after the players check in. The game will be played on Saturday, Dec. 18, at 2 p.m.
"It's a great opportunity," Cunningham says of his chance to impress. "I'm honored to be in it. I'm going to go and represent Fayetteville State as best as I can."
And it is indeed a tremendous opportunity.
The HBCU Bowl selects the top 100 draft-eligible seniors (including 10 alternate players) from all HBCU Football Conferences -- the MEAC, SWAC, SIAC, and CIAA -- to participate. Once that list is set, scouts from the NFL, CFL, UFL and Arena Football League will evaluate the players available during a one-day official combine administered by National Football Scouting, of Indianapolis, IN. Last year, 32 teams attended the week's practices and Saturday's game.
The 2010 NFL draft produced two HBCU draft picks and 16 HBCU football student-athletes signed free-agent contracts. All of those players were participants in the 2009 Russell Athletic HBCU Bowl.
Phillips believes Cunningham will be able to compete well against the best of the HBCU players from all over the country.
"This gives Jeremy the opportunity to showcase his talent against talented players from outside of our league," Phillips says. "I think he will do well. He's a great football player, is very knowledgeable about the game and is a very hard worker. If he goes there and does what he's been coached to do the last two years here, he'll be fine."
And that's exactly what Cunningham, who's continued to work out since the season closed on Nov. 6, intends to do.
"I've been keeping myself in shape," he says. "I've been running and working out. The only thing I haven't been doing is getting on the field with my teammates."
He'll be back on the field in less than two weeks.