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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. We're starting things off with Bowie State quarterback, DJ. Golatt.
The first thing Morgan State offensive line coach Richard Reddix thought when he saw Chris Anthony was, "Okay, he's a big guy, so I got something to work with."
Anthony, who had transferred to Morgan State from Eastern Kentucky, certainly fit the mold for a college offensive lineman. He was 6-foot-4 and 290 pounds, so he had the height and width to physically impose his will on defensive fronts.
But the more time Reddix spent with Anthony, the more he realized that Anthony offered more to the Bears' offense than a big, hulking physical presence. Anthony also possessed an impressive wealth of football knowledge, and if he decides to pursue a professional career, then that mix of size and intelligence could come in handy.
"He's a natural leader," Reddix said. "He's a smart guy. He understands football completely. He communicates well, and he is very coachable."
There really was not much time for Reddix to get to know his players when he got hired by the Bears last June. That only gave him a few months to install the offense, so he had to "hit the ground running" with getting his players up to speed.
Anthony, a former all-state player at Washington High School in Ohio, already had experience to fall back on. He had appeared in a combined 40 games with Morgan State and EKU, including 11 starts at right guard in 2019.
That experience was clear from how Anthony moved on the field.
"He's played other sports," Reddix said. "He's an athletic kid, so he's always been moving around."
Anthony's athleticism showed itself most often when he was asked to pull during run plays. His footwork, along with natural ability to be what Reddix called a "knee and hip bender," allowed him to slip through running lanes and clear the path for Morgan State's running backs.
For all his physical traits, Anthony's communications skills are what helped him the most. Like other offensive lines, Morgan's State's linemen start talking from the moment the huddle is broken. They identify the defensive front and go over how that could affect their blocking assignments.
Normally, the center is the player who makes most of the calls, but since Anthony was so knowledgeable and able to calmly assess situations, Reddix made him the person who directed offensive line.
"We had to start a true freshman at center, so he [Anthony] had to make sure he was constantly in his ear, telling him this, that and the other," Reddix said. "And by the end of the season he was playing next to a freshman left tackle. So, he just had to constantly be, 'Hey, okay Angelo, you have this, this and this.' … He would just communicate all the way across the board, and he would talk to the right tackle all the way back."
That intelligence paid off in handling his own assignments as well. In pass protection, for example, Anthony understood how to get out of his stance, read what the defense was doing, and adapt to it. He could read the defensive line and what they were doing based on tells like their technique, leverage and alignment.
"He was excellent at it," Reddix said. "He was able to communicate things early. So, it may have looked like it was easy for him to do it. That's because he was prepared for it."
Reddix believes Anthony could pursue an NFL career if he wanted to do so. He just got done playing in the HBCU Legacy Bowl, which is an annual all-star game for some of the best HBCU athletes in the country.
Anthony is keeping his options open, though, and he is already dipping his toes into a coaching career. Reddix is not surprised that Anthony is "phenomenal" at that, too.
"He's a sponge," Reddix said. "He's natural at it. He's such a natural coach. That comes back to his communication as far as leadership. Guys respect him. They listen to him. He can yell and fuss and motivate and tell them to keep pushing and they're going to do it because they respect the heck out of him."
So, whether Anthony wants to continue his playing career or dive into coaching, his future in football looks bright. If a team does give him a chance, though, Reddix believes Anthony would give his all.
"He's gonna be one of the hardest working guys," Reddix said. "He's never going to be late. He's never going to give you a bad effort. Every rep is going to be all out. He's going to absorb every bit of teaching."