Leaving A Lasting Impression

By A. Stacy Long
Updated: December 20, 2009

Florida A&M's Leroy Vann was named the MVP of the inaugural HBCU Bowl all-star game, which was played at Cramton Bowl on Saturday.

Florida A&M's Leroy Vann was named the MVP of the inaugural HBCU Bowl all-star game, which was played at Cramton Bowl on Saturday.

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Children from a youth football team surrounded Florida A&M’s Leroy Vann seeking an autograph from the star of the inaugural HBCU Bowl all-star game.

Like he did in Saturday’s game at Cramton Bowl, Vann didn’t disappoint.

Vann returned a punt 81 yards for a first-quarter touchdown to highlight the East’s 26-21 win over the West and patiently worked through the autograph-seeking mass afterward.

“It’s like this when I’m home in Tallahassee,” Vann said. “If I go anywhere, it’s the same way.”

Vann, who returned five punts for touchdowns this season and is the NCAA record holder for career return TDs, was the most valuable player Saturday due to his one spectacular play.

Because of his resume, the East expected Vann to do it. He had eight career punt returns and three kickoff returns for touchdowns.

“He’s been making returns like that for the last couple years,” East coach Joe Taylor of FAMU, who had nine of his players on the East team. “We had a little orange and green flavor out there.

“It was great to coach all of them for one last time.”

Vann fielded a 48-yard punt, had to immediately juke one coverage guy and was off to the races. Vann’s return was enough to coax the entire East team from the sideline to celebrate — and incur a 15-yard penalty.

“That’s him. That’s who is he and what he does,” said FAMU linebacker Bryan Parker, an East teammate Saturday. “Everybody was glued to him when he went out there.

“We talked all week about the different things we were going to do in the game. He did exactly what he said.”

Vann, who managed 32 yards on his other three returns, ranked second in Division I-AA in punt returns this year, though he broke a 21-year-old school and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference record for punt return yards.

Vann’s two-touchdown nationally televised game against Howard in September landed him in Sports Illustrated and on ESPN.

“Coach says I’m a great returner because I’m fearless,” Vann said. “I don’t call fair catch. I’ll take the hit first and try to make something happen.”

Dejarnett sore: Elmore County High graduate Antonio Dejarnett, a receiver from Alcorn State who played for the West on Saturday, left Cramton Bowl with sore ribs he feared may have been broken.

Dejarnett was hurt on the first series of Saturday’s game diving for a long pass, but he returned to make two catches for 24 yards.

“I think I cracked some ribs, but I didn’t want to go out like that,” Dejarnett said. “I came back, but it was getting kind of hard to breath.”

Dejarnett made 10 catches for 275 yards and three touchdowns this year at Alcorn to earn a spot in the HBCU Bowl.

“We’re going to hope this wasn’t my last game,” Dejarnett said. “I’m going to go until I can’t go anymore.”

Players applaud game: Players said they were thrilled with Saturday’s game and the week leading up to it with Tuskegee’s Justin Hannah of the West team calling it “a great experience.”

“There were a lot of NFL scouts here and we were able to display our athleticism and show what we have,” Hannah said. “This was the best against the best, and we all came out and played hard.

“Unfortunately we lost, but we’re all winners. We’re all going to go back, work hard and chase our NFL dreams.”

The game, played in blustery conditions with temperatures in the 40s, drew an estimated crowd of about 3,000.