North Carolina A&T running back Jah-Maine Martin has never been more ready to start a season in his college football career.
Part of it is the long layoff since the Aggies’ last game — a Celebration Bowl win — more than 600 days ago.
The other reason lies in that Martin, a senior, is under the impression that the country — because of the Aggies’ absence after opting out of spring football — has forgotten just how good they are.
“When teams tend not to play for a while, people forget who you are and what you stand for,” he said. “I think it’s time for a little bit of straightening.”
Since North Carolina A&T remained out of the spotlight for the last 86 weeks, other HBCU programs became more celebrated nationally despite not unseating the four-time Black College National Champions.
“They forgot what’s going on around here,” said Martin.
The Aggies head into the fall season with a new outlook and in a new conference.
The Big South — a league that also includes Hampton — welcomes the Aggies. It is a conference that presents newfound challenges and opportunities not relative to its former home in the MEAC.
Independent from a required trip to the Celebration Bowl if it wins a conference title, North Carolina A&T realistically could earn an FCS postseason berth and shot to play for a national championship.
This prospect was not lost on a team that features three preseason All-Big South selections, including Martin, linebacker Kylin Howard, and defensive lineman Jermaine McDaniel.
Though picked third in the Big South preseason rankings, the Aggies are confident they can maintain its level of success and move away from being pigeonholed as just a great HBCU team.
“That’s what we do,” said Howard. “It’s not even about us. It’s time to show the world this is no fluke.”
Head coach Sam Washington, who has guided the Aggies to notable non-conference wins over the years, believes his team “is worthy” to compete at the highest levels in the country despite being in a playoff-rich conference.
“It was tough leaving (the MEAC), leaving an HBCU conference to go to a diverse conference,” said Washington. “There is a time and place for everything. We feel like we’re the right team.”