Players to watch in MEAC, SWAC

In 1985, Delaware State wide receiver John Taylor was named Player of the Year in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Taylor had established career highs that season with 40 receptions, 922 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 23.1 yards per catch.

During the 1986 NFL draft, Taylor became a third-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers. He played on three Super Bowl championship teams. His most memorable performance came against the Cincinnati Bengals in the 1989 Super Bowl when he returned a punt 45 yards and caught the game-winning 10-yard TD from Joe Montana.

Fast-forward more than a decade to 1998, when fellow wideout Donald Driver emerged from the Southwestern Athletic Conference as a seventh-round pick by the Green Bay Packers. The Alcorn State standout had an outstanding senior season (55 catches, 1,128 yards).

He will enter his 12th season with the Packers in 2010, and he's a three-time Pro Bowler who is still a top-tier receiver in the NFL.

The MEAC and SWAC conferences boast stories like these virtually every year, and 2010 is no different. Super Bowl XLIV featured a number of them, actually -- all of whom played for the Indianapolis Colts: Robert Mathis (Alabama A&M), Antoine Bethea (Howard) and Chad Simpson (Morgan State). The nation will get a first look at some of the best players in each conference on Sept. 5 during the sixth annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge (this year's game pits Delaware State of the MEAC against Southern of the SWAC).

Remember you heard about them here first.

Best of the MEAC

Senior QB Malcolm Long | 6-foot-3, 257 pounds | South Carolina State

Long threw for 2,502 yards last season, with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He can stand in the pocket under pressure and is tough to bring down in the open field. He played a big role in South Carolina State's MEAC championship season in 2009.

Senior RB DeAngelo Branche | 5-foot-11, 200 pounds | Norfolk State

Branche is the top returning back in the MEAC. He's coming off a sensational season in which he had 175 carries for 922 yards and 10 touchdowns. He averaged 5.3 yards a carry and should eclipse the 1,000-yard mark this season.

Junior RB Jaashawn Jones | 6-foot-1, 215 pounds | Delaware State

Jones is a great inside runner who has a knack for getting the tough yards. Last season he had 151 carries for 632 yards (4.2 yards a carry) and five TDs.

Junior WR Willie Carter | 6-foot-2, 190 pounds | Howard University

An impact player since his freshman year, Carter has made his mark on deep patterns. His 46 receptions for 630 yards (13.7 yards per catch) and five TDs last season made him a Bison crowd favorite.

Junior WR Kevin Elliott | 6-foot-3, 200 pounds | Florida A&M

Elliott had a spectacular sophomore season (44 catches for 554 yards and seven TDs), and formed a great tandem with former FAMU QB Curtis Pulley. Elliott, who earned second-team All-MEAC honors last season, has the size and the ability to catch passes over the middle.

Senior OL Johnny Culbreath | 6-foot-6, 310 pounds | South Carolina State

Culbreath is one of the best linemen in college football. He's a great run-blocker whose skills helped William Ford become the MEAC's all-time leading rusher.

Senior OL William Falakiseni | 6-foot-2, 300 pounds |
Norfolk State

Falakiseni plays a huge part in keeping drives alive with his blocking (especially for DeAngelo Branche). He also moves his feet well in providing solid pass coverage.

Senior DL Andre Caroll | 6-foot-2, 280 pounds |
Delaware State

Carroll should be the heart and soul of Delaware State's defense this season. He plays the run extremely well and does a good job of getting pressure on the QB. He finished 2009 with 56 total tackles (23 solos) and 2.5 sacks.

Junior DB Justin Ferrell | 5-foot-11, 185 pounds | North Carolina A&T

Ferrell had a MEAC-best six interceptions last season. He can also run with most receivers in the league.

Senior LB David Erby | 6-0, 215 pounds | South Carolina State

Erby is constantly around the football. He's one of the fastest linebackers in the MEAC and is great against the run. He knows how to pick his spots in blitzing the quarterback and is a big-time player on the Bulldogs' defense.

Best of the SWAC

Senior QB KJ Black | 6-4, 225 pounds | Prairie View A&M

One of the best QBs in the nation, Black led Prairie View A&M to the SWAC championship last season (completing 18 of 28 passes for 258 yards and three TDs in the win over Alabama A&M). He threw for 2,033 yards with 22 TDs and just four INTs.

Senior RB Donald Babers | 5-foot-9, 170 pounds |
Prairie View A&M

You don't have to give Babers a lot of running room. He can explode between the tackles and get to the outside and can catch the ball coming out of the backfield. Last season he had 180 carries for 919 yards and nine TDs.

Junior WR Nicholas Andrews | 5-foot-9, 170 pounds | Alabama State

Andrews knows how to find the open spots in a defense. Despite his size, he has the moves to get open, make the reception and breeze past the defender. Last season he had 47 receptions for 803 yards and five TDs, while averaging 17.1 yards per catch.

Junior OL James Dekle | 6-foot-2, 285 pounds | Prairie View A&M

Dekle established himself as one of the best blockers in the SWAC. He can pass block and has the quickness to get out in front of the running backs to help the ground attack. He's a player who is only going to get better.

Senior DL Christian Anthony | 6-foot-4, 275 pounds | Grambling State

Anthony is one of the best all-around defensive players in the country. The SWAC Defensive Player of the Year had 76 total tackles (55 solos) with eight sacks last season.

Senior FS Jason House | 6-0, 190 pounds | Southern University

House emerged as a huge defensive standout last season. He switched from wide receiver to free safety and led the SWAC (and FCS) with 10 interceptions. House showcased his athletic prowess with a 40-yard interception return for a score against Texas Southern.

Junior DB De'Markus Washington | 5-foot-9, 160 pounds | Texas Southern

Washington is one of the best young DBs in the SWAC. At 5-foot-9, he's not very big, but he has great speed and knows how to make plays. He had 21 total tackles (13 solos) with four interceptions last season.

Senior DL Malcolm Taylor | 6-foot-3, 245 pounds | Alcorn State

Taylor is a dominating defensive player in the SWAC and produced some major numbers last season: 66 total tackles (36 solos) and nine sacks. A tremendous pass-rusher, Taylor does a good job of moving laterally.

Junior LB Cliff Exama | 6-0, 226 pounds | Grambling State

With his amazing 94 total tackles (54 solos) and 3.5 sacks last season, you have to know where Exama is on the field. He is a play-making linebacker who knows how to come up and stop the run very quickly.

Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune. His HBCU Notebook on ESPN.com can be found here. Got a story idea for Donald? E-mail him at dhunt37261@aol.com.