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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'll start with defensive back Will Adams, who played for the Virginia State Trojans.
Will Adams, DB, Virginia State
It didn't take long for defensive backs coach Evan Jones to see that Adams was special when he joined the Trojans coaching staff in Adams' second season. In fact, the first thing he thought when he saw what Adams could do was, "Everything about him says, 'Hey, this should be a Division I guy.'"
"He was…big, tall, fast, could run, very athletic," Jones said. "These are all the traits you want when you coach a guy."
Adams' size is more than enough to make him stand out. At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds, he's one of the biggest and tallest defensive backs on the Trojans' roster. His stats from his senior year do that, too; he had the most solo tackles on the team, which helped him record 61 total tackles.
But those stem from some core traits that Jones considers the best things about Adams: his engine, intelligence and desire to compete.
"You could see he was just night and day different," Jones said.
That difference became clear to Jones during the Trojans' offseason workouts called "mat drills," which occur in the winter and spring. They can be intense sessions that emphasize conditioning and agility over strength with bag drills and sprints up the stands among other things.
It's easy to see how physically draining those workouts can be, and yet Adams managed to finish first. That revealed a lot to Jones; it showed that Adams didn't mind working, and he'll do whatever necessary to get better.
"He works," Jones said. "And I don't mean just as we're doing mat drills and organized workouts. This kid is doing stuff away from the field, away from the program to help him get better."
There were times when Adams would work so hard that Jones and the rest of the Trojans' coaches would tell him to hold back just so he wouldn't hurt himself. That creates a mixture of emotions as a coach. Adams' health was always a priority, but the defensive back's dedication impressed Jones.
"Those are guys you want in your program because they rub off on other guys," Jones said. "They create a standard for your program and what it looks like to be a four-year starter."
That determination carried over to the field, and his refusal to give up on plays always shined in games. He was quick to get to the ball, and he was violent when he got there. He played just as hard in the fourth quarter as he did in the first quarter, Jones said, and he always wanted to win.
Jones added that when Adams is in the right place at the right time, "it's over," but even when he gets beat, his energy, speed and agility still allows him to make plays.
Adams backs that energy up with high-level intelligence about the game. It was a regular occurrence for Adams to pop into Jones' office to go over the game plan about three times each week. Jones wasn't the one directing those conversations, though; it was Adams telling him how the defense was going to attack the opposing offense.
"He's the coach for 15 minutes," Jones said. "'If we get this motion, then we're gonna check this coverage call. On first-and-10, we're gonna play this. On second-and-7 and we get this formation, we're gonna go to our passing coverage concepts.'"
Another area where Adams' energy has allowed him to thrive is in open field tackling. Everybody has to do it, Jones said, but defensive backs are required to do more than most. Adams wasn't bad, but Jones did see clear growth over the years. (Case and point: his 34 solo tackles)
Jones believes that Adams is ready for the next level, and based on his performance at the inaugural HBCU Combine, the metrics suggest that as well. He posted a 10-foot-3 broad jump; recorded a 40.5-inch vertical; got 21 reps on bench press; and ran a 4.57 40-yard dash.
Numbers like those, Nagy said on his Twitter account, have "every NFL team doing more homework."
And no matter how the draft unfolds for Adams, Jones knows what kind of player whichever team picks him up.
"They're getting a committed guy," Jones said. "A lot of people are satisfied with being there. He's not a guy that's gonna just be satisfied. He's gonna compete, he's gonna contribute and help the team win wherever he can."