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HBCU players have been an integral part of the NFL's history. From Jerry Rice to Larry Little and Walter Payton, the league has been shaped by talented athletes from historically black colleges and universities.
For the Washington Commanders, this fact should be familiar to them. Doug Williams, a Grambling alum, guided Washington to its second Super Bowl victory with an impressive performance, taking down the Denver Broncos with 340 yards and four touchdowns.
In anticipation for the 2022 NFL Draft and in honor of Black History Month, Commanders.com will be highlighting some of this year's HBCU prospects. After starting with Virginia State defensive back Will Adams, next up is Bowie State's Myles Wolfolk.
Myles Wolfolk, DB, Bowie State
Long before Wolfolk was contributing to a Bulldogs defense that allowed seven points or fewer in seven games during the 2021 season, Wolfolk was a local kid from Largo, Maryland, who could often be found on Bowie State's campus training with one of the Bulldogs' volunteer coaches.
That was defensive coordinator Antone' Sewell's first interaction with Wolfolk, and even then it was clear to Sewell that players like Wolfolk are rare.
"You could tell he was a kid that had the ability to play major college football," Sewell said. "He was doing some things physically that you don't see from a lot of young men at his age."
There was, and still is a lot to like about Wolfolk, whether it's his leadership, team-first mentality or attention to detail. All of that stuck out to Sewell when Wolfolk transferred to Bowie for the 2021 season. To Sewell, Wolfolk remains a rare mix of intangibles, all of which he believes will help the young defensive back in the professional ranks.
It starts with Wolfolk's physicality. It isn't the first thing people think of when it comes to defensive backs, but it's a key piece of Wolfolk's skillset. He isn't afraid to stick his nose into plays, Sewell said, and it's a trait Wolfolk has been able to lean on over the course of his career. That much was clear by his 75 tackles in 2021, which was second on the team.
"He's going to hit you," Sewell said, "and you're going to go down a lot of times."
As a coordinator, that gave Sewell more freedom with how he structured the secondary. He moved Wolfolk around the entire backend of the defense because of his willingness to be a presence in the run game.
It was the first time Wolfolk had to show off that kind of versatility. He had played safety and spent some time in the slot at North Carolina, but it was expanded exponentially at Bowie. His instincts made that an easy transition.
"It allows us to go from, 'Hey, he can play in the box, he can flex out," Sewell said. "If they try to go to a spread set, we can put him on a hash."
It worked so well because Wolfolk was prepared to do whatever he needed to help the team.
"He thrived in a position and it got to the point where he was seeking out the contact," Sewell said.
Wolfolk didn't just thrive in the run game, though. He was exceptional in coverage as well with two interceptions and three pass breakups. One of his picks, which was returned for a touchdown, helped the Bulldogs secure a 51-44 win over Virginia State.
What's more impressive is that Wolfolk fit in so well after spending most of his career with another program. He signed with the Tar Heels as a three-star recruit and the ninth-ranked cornerback in Maryland by Scout.com. He played in 20 games with 11 starts, and while injuries disrupted his sophomore and junior seasons, he was productive with 85 tackles and five interceptions.
And despite only being in the program for one season, he immediately gained his teammates' respect. Most of them knew him from their high school, so they were already familiar with what he brought to the defense. What's more, he quickly established himself as a player Sewell could trust.
"From the time he's got here, he's kind of taken that coach on the field role and ran with it," Sewell said. "It says a lot about him coming in as a young man…in his last year that he was able to command the respect of his teammates."
After helping Bowie finish the 2021 season with a 12-2 record and reach the Division II quarterfinals, the next step for Wolfolk is to compete in the HBCU Legacy Bowl along with four other Bulldog players. There he will be among the best draft-eligible football players from Historically Black Colleges and Universities and receive valuable exposure to NFL scouts.
Based on how Sewell praised him, he shouldn't have a problem standing out.
"He's always been a good young man, very grounded, very well spoken, humble kid," Sewell said. "Every time I've seen him, he's been working hard and doing what he has to do off the field and try to get to where he is now."