TSU alumn, Chris Rowland, lands spot on Falcons despite the cancellation of the HBCU Combine

On Mon April 27, after the 2020 NFL Draft came to a conclusion, the Atlanta Falcons announced the 20 undrafted free agents that signed contracts with the Dirty Birds. That list included the 2019 Black College Football Player of the Year, Chris Rowland, a wide receiver from Tennessee State University. Rowland was recognized in Atlanta for his outstanding collegiate career during the Black College Football Hall of Fame ceremony earlier this year. Now, he will return to the city to prove his worth as a professional athlete.

Photo by Charles Pulliam

In his last season as a Tiger, Rowland racked up 1,569 all purpose yards, 104 receptions, and eight touchdowns. He is best known for breaking HBCU legend Jerry Rice’s single season reception record. Rice posted 103 receptions in his 1984 season at Mississippi Valley State University. Rowland rolled right past him, hauling in just one more and leaving the Big Blue nation with something else to remember him by. Rowland completed six games with 200 plus all purpose yards, was named the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year, and was selected to compete in the NFL Player Associations Collegiate Bowl.

Even though Chris Rowland is decked down in accolades and superior stats, his road to an opportunity with the Falcons was not the smoothest. Ultimately, Rowland still competed at an HBCU and did not receive the exposure that he would have if he were playing in a Power 5 Conference. This year, the NFL made efforts to level the playing field and created the first annual official NFL HBCU Combine. This combine was formed specifically to provide top black college athletes, who may not have had the opportunity to perform on a national stage, direct exposure to league scouts. Rowland was one of many invitees, however, the event was forced to cancel amid the Coronavirus pandemic.

“I think what the NFL was going towards was really good and was going to help. Especially our HBCU community and being able to get the guys looked at who don’t get a chance to get looked at often.” Tennessee State University Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator Shannon Harris said.   

Harris believes that Rowland was able to stay ahead of the curve by getting invited to bowl games and being able to showcase his abilities during those practices. 

“One thing Chris did a good job of was preparing himself for every game and every practice. The way he took care of his body…he did a great job of that during the entire course of the year.” Harris stated.

Rowland will now be able to learn from a wide receiver core led by one of the league’s greats in Juilo Jones.

“Going into a situation with a great receiving room with the Falcons, I will say this…one thing about him, he’s not going to get out worked. He’s going to go in there with the mindset of trying to compete the best way he can. Whether it be a specialist, whether it be in the backfield, or at the receiver position. That’s one thing that he will show, his athleticism and his toughness will not be overlooked.” Harris declared.


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