Just five seasons ago, North Carolina A&T was 1-10 and could only dream of competing for a MEAC championship, let alone participate in a nationally televised bowl game.
After the school hired Rod Broadway in 2011, a coach who had been a winner at North Carolina Central and Grambling State, North Carolina A&T saw immediate improvement.
North Carolina A&T went 5-6 in 2011, 7-4 in 2012 and 2013 before posting a 9-3 season in 2014 and 9-2 campaign this season, culminating in a pair of co-MEAC championships.
N.C. A&T now will kickoff the bowl season at the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl Saturday (11 a.m. ABC) thanks in large part to Broadway.
“This bowl game means a lot right now and shows the legacy of coach Broadway,” Aggies running back Tarik Cohen told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “It shows all he’s done for the program, how it’s come from being like a 1-9 team way back when to right now playing for a black college national championship.”
Alcorn State head coach Jay Hopson can relate to the Aggies story of overcoming adversity.
In 2011, the Braves were a disappointing 2-8 and fired then head coach Melvin Spears after only one season. The program was at its lowest point.
The university made a shocking hire that offseason by naming Hopson, who had been a longtime FBS assistant, head coach. The move came with some controversy, however, as some critics suggested that Hopson, who was the first white head coach in SWAC history, should not been hired over qualified black candidates.
The scrutiny died down after Alcorn State double its win total in 2012, going 4-7. In 2013, Alcorn State went 9-3 and beat Grambling State, Jackson State and Southern in the same season for the first time in school history. The program was officially on the rise.
In 2014, the Braves won the SWAC East and beat Southern in the SWAC Championship Game to capture the school’s first league title in the divisional era. This month, Alcorn State won another championship trouncing Grambling State 49-21 on Dec. 5.
“I said it from the get go, it’s all purple and gold at Alcorn. I’ve got an outstanding president, an outstanding athletic director and faculty and staff. I grew up here, and it’s kind of home to me,” Hopson told the Clarion-Ledger. “We had a lot of outside press from Los Angeles, from New York … but it’s home and I’m here and it’s been a true blessing in my life and I’ll never be able to thank Alcorn State enough.”
Video game simulation predicts Celebration Bowl outcome: If Sports Gaming Universe is right, Alcorn State will win the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl. Using EA Sports NCAA 14, Sports Game Universe, a video game company that has simulated every bowl game, including the College Football Playoffs, determined that Alcorn State beat North Carolina A&t 42-0.
Alcorn State mum about bowl game starting QB: Lenorris Footman has started six games since taking over for incumbent John Gibbs Jr. on Oct. 31. Footman has thrown for 962 yards and 12 touchdowns to go along with 12 rushing TDs in six starts.
“They are both ready to play,” Hopson said. “The good news for us is we have two great quarterbacks.”