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Chicago Football Classic promotes black colleges to area students

Road Construction around Soldier Field could delay Bears fans this season. | Lee Hogan/For the Sun-Times

Two years after starring at quarterback for Rich Central, DaQuan Richie is home for a big college game.

Richie’s Central State will play Division II rival Clark Atlanta in the 19th annual Chicago Football Classic on Saturday at Soldier Field. The event promotes historically black colleges and universities for Chicago-area students.

“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “I’m truly excited. I didn’t see myself in these situations until now.”

Richie attended Culver-Stockton College last year but decided to consider an HBCU on his father’s advice. The communications major and aspiring sports broadcaster said Central State offered strong academics and a spot on the football team (he’s now a receiver).

Richie is comfortable with the school’s homey feel. HBCUs are diverse (Central State and Clark Atlanta are predominantly black), and they have small enrollments. According to U.S. News and World Report, Central State has 1,733 undergraduate students and Clark Atlanta 2,567.

“It’s easier to excel because you’re in a classroom of either 25 or 30, instead of two, three hundred people,” said Central State junior fullback Josh Brinson, who attended high school in Mt. Vernon, Ill., but was born in Chicago. “You’re not just a number.”

Though he said he misses city life, Kalon Grover, a freshman receiver who played at Curie, has enjoyed his first month at the Wilberforce, Ohio school. The Marauders bond through Madden video-game tournaments, parties and meals at an unofficially reserved table in the school’s cafeteria.

“There are people here from Detroit, New York, New Orleans, Alabama, Florida,” Grover said. “I just like meeting different people like that.”

Clark Atlanta has one Chicago native, sophomore defensive back Justin Tolbert, but the Panthers will be well-represented by former students. Bakari Baker, the president of Clark Atlanta’s Chicago alumni chapter, said his group sold all 300 of its allotted tickets.

Baker, who mentors through the Chicago Scholars program, said he’s surprised that HBCUs are seldom advocated for local students. The CFC is a way to change that, through an HBCU college fair at Soldier Field on Saturday morning, and a festive game-day experience.

HBCU rivalry games are electric, with fans going back-and-forth with chants and dances to support their school. The CFC will have a halftime battle between the schools’ bands.

“Have you ever seen a football game in the movies, and how exaggerated the atmosphere is in a movie?” Baker said of HBCU games. “It’s like that times 10.”

Clark Atlanta makes its CFC debut. Central State has played in three, most recently losing to Morehouse 43-9 in 2014. Both teams are 0-1 this season.

The CFC was formed in 1997 by three black Chicago businessmen, Larry Huggins, Everett Rand and Tim Rand.

Follow me on Twitter @MikeChamernik.