GREENSBORO – Practice has started in Aggieland even if it was for a shorter time than usual. North Carolina A&T held its first football practice on Thursday with approximately 94 players reporting to training camp. Thursday’s practice didn’t last long. The Aggies went for about an hour before closing Day 1 with conditioning.
“We just wanted to get out there and break a sweat a little bit,” said N.C. A&T head coach Rod Broadway, who is entering his sixth season as the Aggies head coach. “We’ve got a long, tough season ahead, so we just wanted to get out there
N.C. A&T has a lot to defend. The Aggies are the two-time defending MEAC champions after sharing two straight seasons. The Aggies are also the defending Celebration Bowl champion after beating Alcorn State 41-34 at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. They then claimed the school’s fourth black college football national championship after a 10-2 season that also saw them finish 7-1 in the MEAC. [easyazon_infoblock align=”right” cart=”y” identifier=”B01CZB16HW” locale=”US” tag=”hbcusports-20″]
“Last year was nice. The guys had some great experiences they will never forget,” said Broadway. “But now it’s time to move forward. The players are excited, the coaches are excited and I’m sure our fans are excited about this year coming up. The challenge for us is to see we can develop these guys into being a good football team.”
N.C. A&T has a talented group returning. Punt returner Khris Gardin has already been named to three preseason All-American teams (Athlon Sports, STATS FCS, Boxtorow) after breaking the NCAA record for punt return yards in a season (740). Running back Tarik Cohen is the preseason player of the year in the MEAC, while also earning a spot on the STATS FCS player of the year Watch List. He comes into his senior as the Aggies all-time leading rusher and he is 642 yards shy of the MEAC rushing record. He broke the Aggies single-season rushing record in 2015 with 1,543 yards.
The Aggies also return MEAC Offensive Lineman of the Year Brandon Parker and preseason All-MEAC center Darriel Mack. Other weapons on offense include receivers Xavier Griffin, Michael Weaver, Jr., Gardin and preseason All-MEAC selection Denzel Keyes. Who will throw the ball to those weapons will be a question soon to be answered in camp. The contenders are sophomores Lamar Raynard and Kylil Carter and senior Oluwefemi Bamiro.
“We want tough competition at every position,” said Broadway. “Competition makes you better. We’re going to put the best guy out there and let him go play because we have some talented receivers on our ball club, and we need to get the ball into their hands.”
Despite the offensive talent, the Aggies have built their championship teams off their defense. First-team All-MEAC defensive lineman Marquis Ragland leads this group of seven returning players from the 2015 No. 2 ranked defense in the nation. The defense also includes preseason All-MEAC standouts Angelo Keyes at defensive end, Malik Hampton-Prioleau at defensive end, Marcus Albert at linebacker, Zerius Lockhart at safety and Tard McCoy at cornerback.
“We feel like we are ring chasers,” said Ragland. “We don’t feel like the hunted. We feel like we’re in the hunt. No one has won this year’s championship yet, so we feel like we’re hunting for it like everybody else.”
Courtesy: NCA&T Athletics