Bartell, Mathis Extend HBCU Football Legacy

Ronald Bartell Jr. is a small school guy with big school upside. When the Howard University cornerback is chosen in this weekend’s NFL Draft, he should become the highest drafted player in the history of the school.

Projected by ESPN’s draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. to go in either the late second round, or early third round, Bartell has taken the tough road to the NFL. He transferred to Division II Howard University after two years with Central Michigan and although the standout cornerback wasn’t thinking about the NFL when he made the move, he knew that if he was good enough NFL scouts would find him.

Since ending his collegiate career, the shutdown corner has tirelessly prepared for draft day. He has been training at Athletes Performance Center in Tempe, Ariz. and ran an explosive 4.37 in the 40-meter dash at the NFL Combine.

Former Howard offensive lineman and current Baltimore Ravens player Marques Ogden believes Bartell can be a force in the NFL. “Hopefully he’ll get his chance in the NFL sooner than I did,” he told the Washington Post this past week. “Hopefully someone will say, ‘I don’t care where he went to school. He can play.’”

However, Bartell is not the only explosive player to rear his head out of the nation’s smaller Division II schools. Archrivals Hampton University also has a hand in the bag with tear-away wide receiver Jerome Mathis. What makes Mathis such an intriguing prospect is his speed as he recorded one of the fastest times ever at the NFL Combine with a dynamic 4.31 in the 40-meter dash.

Like Bartell, the concern with Mathis is that he is quite raw – a worry when drafting Division II players who have not been exposed to Division I coaching schemes and expertise. He is also a little undersized at 5’11 and 181 pounds. However, his tremendous speed has scouts interested and he can contribute immediately in the NFL as a punt or kick return man.

Mathis burned the competition in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference for the last two years and finished with an eye-opening average of 26 yards per catch – a sure sign that he is capable of evading the defense. His speed allowed him to be a dual-sport star at his alma mater and he successfully defended his NCAA East Regional title in the 200-meter dash for two years.

As a wide receiver and with his tremendous speed, Mathis could be snapped up as early as the second round.

Both have garnered interest from numerous NFL clubs and the New York Giants, New York Jets and the Houston Texans all showed in March for Bartell’s rainy pro day.

“We scouted him during the season,” New York Giants General Manager Ernie Accorsi, told the Washington Post. “It wasn’t just his pro day. We’re on him.”

Although both Bartell and Mathis have a long way to go before they are NFL game-ready, scouts are eagerly anticipating a shot at either player. Ironically, Bartell and Mathis have faced each other twice as Hampton and Howard squared off over the last two seasons. Now they enter this weekend’s draft together.