Undefeated Season Earns No. 22 Alabama A&M First HBCU Football National Championship in Program History

By Joshua J. Darling, Sports Information Director Alabama A&M

 

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Alabama A&M football, fresh off perhaps the greatest season in program history, just took a major step to making it the greatest ever as they have been named the Spring 2021 Historically Black College and Universities (HBCU) National Champion as BoxToRow announced the Bulldogs as the No. 1 team in the final Coaches and Media Polls.

Facing adversity that included multiple delays and cancellations due to opponent’s COVID-19 protocols and a 468-day layoff between the end of the 2019 season and the beginning of the unique Spring 2021 campaign, A&M persevered against all obstacles to go a perfect 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC).

That run, capped by a thrilling 40-33 victory over No. 25 Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday, May 1, not only earned them the second SWAC Championship in program history and the first since 2006, it secured the first overall undefeated season since the 1966 team went a perfect 8-0. While that team was unofficially credited as the Black Football National Champion, this is the first time that Alabama A&M has officially earned a football national championship.

“Being No. 1 in the BOXTOROW HBCU polls and HBCU National Champions means everything to this program,” said head coach Connell Maynor. “This is what we set out to accomplish three years ago. This is the result of a total team effort from the president, trustees and director of athletics on down with all buying in. I am so proud of my coaches and players because they have worked so hard and they deserve this. Bulldog Nation has been waiting a long time for the Bulldogs to be back at the top.”

And on the way to the top they broke records and picked up as many honors as they could, including senior quarterback Aqeel Glass (St. Louis, Mo.) setting Division I Era program single game records for passing yards (440) and passing touchdowns (6) at Jackson State (4/10) while becoming the first player to be named BOXTOROW National Player of the Year and overall SWAC Player of the Year. For good measure he added BOXTOROW National Player of the Week honors.

He was also one of six BOXTOROW All-Americans, being joined by sophomore offensive lineman Jonathan Williams (Mobile, Ala.), sophomore wide receiver Abdul-Fatai Ibrahim (Miramar, Fla.) and junior defensive lineman Marcus Cushnie (Broward County, Fla.) on the First-Team. Junior running back Gary Quarles (Cottondale, Ala.) and senior wide receiver Zabrian Moore (Tuscaloosa, Ala.) added to the honors as they each earned spots on the All-American Honorable Mention Team.

The Bulldogs also broke program records at the conference level, earning a program record 11 All-SWAC selections to top the 10 earned by the 2019 and 2006 squads and collected numerous weekly honors.

The path to a title was a winding one that led in many different directions as the schedule that Alabama A&M set out to play looked far different when things were said and done. Poised to open with a donnybrook against multi-time East Division Champion Alcorn State on February 27, that game went away and turned into a 2-0 forfeit victory when the Braves opted out.

Their new season opener at Mississippi Valley State on March 6 would be postponed and quickly replaced with a trip to South Carolina State for the same date, a game the Bulldogs would win handily by a 31-7 score. Two weeks later their trip to Texas to face Prairie View was postponed and the new home opener against Grambling on March 27 was cancelled.

Round 2 of trying to play PVAMU ended the exact same way as the first – with another postponement (and eventual cancellation) that led to a 35-day hiatus before A&M finally took the field again, this time at Jackson State on April 10.

Glass and crew would light it up with a 52-43 victory in a nationally televised game on ESPN that set the stage for a dominant 38-14 victory over rival Alabama State in the Magic City Classic a week later. The second try to get on the field with MVSU didn’t come about either, once again due to COVID-19 protocols within the Delta Devils program.

A similar fate awaited their eventual title bout opponent, No. 25 Arkansas-Pine Bluff, in their regular season finale and sent both teams to the SWAC Championship Game in Jackson, Mississippi rather than either school’s campus as was originally planned.

That would mean that Alabama A&M would play no games at home for at least the first time in the DI Era and possibly in program history. As true road warriors in Spring 2021 it would not faze them as they hit their mark and took UAPB out 40-33 to secure both the SWAC Championship as well as the first HBCU National Championship in program history.

ABOUT THE BOXTOROW NATIONAL POLLS
The BOXTOROW HBCU FCS Coaches Poll, and the BOXTOROW Media Poll is administered by FROM THE PRESS BOX TO PRESS ROW. The coaches poll, in its 12th year is voted on by the HBCU Football Championship Subdivision coaches. The media poll, in its 14th year, is voted on by media members around the country who cover HBCU football.

HISTORY OF HBCU FOOTBALL NATIONAL CHAMPIONS
Since 2013 both the Coaches and Media polls have been in lock step, crowning the same champion for the past eight seasons. For the previous three seasons, and four of the last five, that was North Carolina A&T (2019, 2018, 2017, 2015) with Grambling claiming a title in 2016.

They agreed on Alcorn State in 2014 and Bethune-Cookman in 2013 before diverging in 2011 and 2012. The Media Poll would award both years to Connell Maynor‘s Winston-Salem State teams that dominated Division II while the Coaches Poll selected SWAC Champion Arkansas-Pine Bluff in 2012 and Norfolk State in 2011.

The previous two seasons would see the polls align with Bethune-Cookman (2010) and South Carolina State (2009) claiming titles while the Media Poll awarded Grambling the 2008 championship and Division II Tuskegee the inaugural title in 2007.

FINAL 2021 BOXTOROW COACHES POLL

No.TeamW-LPtsLast Week
1.Alabama A&M (15)5-01501
2.Arkansas-Pine Bluff4-11302
3.Southern5-11233
4.Prairie View A&M2-11984
5.South Carolina State3-1945
6.Alabama State3-3746
7.Jackson State3-3657
8.Delaware State2-3358
9.Tennessee State2-5309
10. Grambling0-41110

 

Others receiving votes:
Mississippi Valley State (0-3) 7, Texas Southern (0-2) 2, Howard (0-2) 1.
(1st place votes in parentheses)

FINAL 2021 BOXTOROW COACHES POLL

No.TeamW-LPts.Last Week
1.Alabama A&M (15)5-01501
2.Arkansas-Pine Bluff4-11342
3.Southern5-11193
4.Prairie View A&M2-11004
5.South Carolina State3-1935
6.Alabama State3-3766
7.Delaware State2-3547
8.Jackson State3-3518
9.West Virginia State2-2299
10.Tennessee State2-51310

Other receiving votes: Langston (2-3) 1.
(1st place votes in parentheses)

About Willie Alex Hines 913 Articles
A lifelong sports fan and follower of HBCUs, Willie Alexander Hines is an expert on any sport with tremendous recall of history and newsmakers.