Three underclassmen players on the Morehouse College football team are more than ready to compete on Saturday (Sept. 17) against Howard University in a historic matchup at MetLife Stadium. Azola Martin, a sophomore defensive back from Detroit; Bradley Johnson, a sophomore defensive lineman from Las Vegas; and Myles Lee, a freshman running back out of Fresno, California are each prepared to lead the charge against a tough Division I opponent.
This classic HBCU football matchup began in 1923. Since then, these teams have competed 37 times, with Howard leading the series 25-10-2. Both teams, however, leave the past behind as they look forward to earning their first win of the 2022 college football season.
The Maroon Tigers (0-2) are eager to make a statement this weekend, despite their underdog status. The energy around Morehouse College’s campus is high going into this matchup. But no one is more driven than the younger players on the team.
For these players, taking the field as HBCU football players has changed their experiences as football players for the better. The speed and mentality of college football proved to be a steep learning curve. Most notably, competing with and against other Black players takes precedence over all other college football experiences.
Lee, like many other Morehouse players, was one of the few Black players on his high school team in Fresno. Despite being the state with the fifth-largest Black population in the U.S., California notably does not have any HBCUs within its borders. As such, the freshman running back is ecstatic about the opportunity to play alongside his brothers.
“When you play the game with your people, it makes the game way more engaging and fun,” Lee said. “You feel way closer to your brothers and being at Morehouse is all about brotherhood.”
The game against Howard also represents a milestone for these younger players. Years of arduous work, on and off the field, have culminated in this unique HBCU gameday experience.
Martin, a safety, considers this opportunity a crucial step in his development.
“Being able to play in New York is a huge thing for any young man out there,” Martin said. “On a personal level, it just shows how far I’ve come as a player and as a man.”
Making the travel roster for the game is also an achievement for younger players. The roster only has room for 60 active players, chosen based on specific needs for the game. The Maroon Tigers have 100 players in total, making it very competitive for underclassmen to earn a roster spot.
“Getting on the travel roster is a big deal,” Johnson said. “You want to show the coaches that you can potentially be one of the best guys on the team.”
After suffering a home loss to the University of West Georgia last week, younger players are excited about the team’s new mindset going into this weekend. The players are hoping to return to a more disciplined Morehouse brand of football with fewer penalties as seen in their close season-opening loss against West Alabama. Johnson, who has started every game this season, is more than up for the test.
“Being an underdog is definitely a challenge,” Johnson said. “But it’s nothing Morehouse football can’t handle.”
When asked about the game’s impact on HBCU culture, these three players agreed on a common theme. On a broader level, the New York Football Classic reflects the mission of HBCUs in terms of gaining national recognition, competing with predominantly white institutions, and sharing African American culture with the world.
To fans of the team, underclassmen players send their deepest thanks for their support. To the haters, the players also send their thanks, for adding fuel to the Maroon Tiger fire.
- Where: MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey
- When: Saturday, September 17 at 3:00 PM ET
- Stream live: Watch on Peacock and CNBC
Author’s Note: Kennedy Edgerton is a filmmaker, journalist, District of Columbia-native, and senior studying Cinema, Television, and Emerging Media Studies with a minor in Journalism at Morehouse College. Kennedy has written for Morehouse College’s Maroon Tiger newspaper since 2021. He is a passionate storyteller and aspires to become a screenwriter and journalist. You can follow him on Instagram @kennedyedgerton