FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Jackson State cornerback and returner Isaiah Bolden became the lone HBCU player to be selected in the 2023 NFL draft when the Patriots tabbed him in the seventh round, 245th overall.

“It means a lot to me, carrying the weight of the HBCUs,” Bolden said Saturday. “There are a lot of talented guys out there.”

Bolden, who has one year of starting experience at cornerback and led the FCS in kick return average in 2021 with a 36.9-yard average, followed through on his goal of shining a spotlight on HBCU players.

When he left Florida State in 2020 to attend Jackson State, to play under coach Deion Sanders, he had said: “I’m taking on the responsibility to show recruits and transfers that you can come to an HBCU and get to the league. Me being a part of that change is a big thing for me.”

Of playing under Sanders, who has since moved on to the University of Colorado, Bolden said: “It was big-time, learning from the greatest of all time. I felt like he developed me for this moment.”

It almost didn’t happen for the 23-year-old Bolden, who had a crowd of about 50 family members and friends at his Florida residence on Saturday, as his name wasn’t called deep into the seventh round.

There were 259 picks in this year’s draft, and as the seventh round progressed, he started considering other plans.

“We were going to call some different teams about free agency,” Bolden said. “I was losing hope, but then the Patriots called.”

Director of player personnel Matt Groh noted Bolden’s speed (he was timed at 4.33 in the 40-yard dash), adding that the Patriots hosted him on a pre-draft visit.

“He grew up down in Florida and football is in a lot of those guys’ veins,” Groh said. “I was able to spend some time with Isaiah here and I’m looking forward to getting to know him better and congratulate him on representing [HBCUs]. I think that’s a great thing.”

Bolden is the second Jackson State player who played under Sanders to be drafted. The other was linebacker James Houston, who was selected by the Detroit Lions in the sixth round last year and went on to become just the third player since sacks became an official statistic in 1982 to record at least one sack in each of his first four career games (Terrell Suggs, Santana Dotson are the others).

With Houston, and now Bolden, Jackson State had a player drafted in consecutive years for the first time since 1997-98.

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Patriots take Jackson State’s Isaiah Bolden – ‘Carrying weight of HBCUs’