The AFCA Trailblazer Award was created to honor early leaders in the football coaching profession who coached at historically black colleges and universities. For a five-year period, the Trailblazer Award will be given to an individual who coached in a certain decade. The inaugural winner coached in the decade from from 1920 to 1929, with the five-year cycle ending in 2008 and a winner coming from the 1960-1969 decade. In 2009, the cycle started over with a winner coming from the decade between 1920 and 1929.
Past Trailblazer Award winners include Charles Williams of Hampton (2004), Cleve Abbott of Tuskegee (2005), Arnett Mumford of Southern (2006), Billy Nicks of Prairie View A&M (2007), Alonzo “Jake” Gaither of Florida A&M (2008), Fred “Pops” Long of Wiley (2009), Harry R. “Big Jeff” Jefferson of Bluefield State (2010), Edward P. Hurt of Morgan State (2011), Vernon “Skip” McCain of Maryland-Eastern Shore (2012), Marino Casem of Alcorn State (2013) and Gideon Smith of Hampton (2014). This year's winner will be honored at the 2016 AFCA Convention in San Antonio, Texas, on Monday, January 11 at the President's Kickoff Luncheon.