North Carolina A&T has regained the respect as a championship-caliber team it has enjoyed for nearly a decade.
On Tuesday, the Aggies were tabbed as preseason favorites to win the Big South.
“We appreciate the coaches naming us the preseason favorite,” said A&T head coach Sam Washington. “We have worked our butts off. Unfortunately, we did not reach our potential last year and do as well as we should have. But since the first of the summer, the mindset has been wonderful. We had 98 percent of our team on campus by the second summer session. They are getting prepared physically and mentally, and I am extremely grateful for that.”
The Big South also released its preseason team, which features six Aggies. Linebacker Jacob Roberts, defensive end Jermaine McDaniel, defensive back Karon Prunty, left tackle Ricky Lee III, wide receiver Jamison Warren and placekicker Andrew Brown made the team. In addition, running back Bhayshul Tuten and tight end Nicholas Dobson received honorable mention accolades.
Roberts has emerged as one of the best defensive players in the conference. He is a two-time all-conference performer, earning second-team accolades in the MEAC in 2019 before earning second-team recognition in the Big South in 2021. Roberts led the Aggies in tackles last season with 84. In two seasons, he has 146 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, 9 1/2 sacks, two pass breakups, three interceptions and an amazing four blocked kicks.
“He is a very smart, conscientious and good person,” said Washington about Roberts. “The same high quality he plays with on the field; that’s how he lives his life daily. He’s a quality guy. I hope the importance of caring for your body, mind and soul rubs off some of our guys.”
Injuries slowed down McDaniel last season, but in 2019 he had a terrific season that included 12 tackles for loss and 7 1/2 sacks. Even in limited time a year ago, he had 4 1/2 tackles for loss and four sacks.
In 2020, Prunty had one of the best freshman seasons in Kansas Jayhawk history, earning All-Big 12 honorable mention accolades and 247Sports True Freshman All-American honors. “He is going to make a difference immediately,” Washington said about Prunty. “He’s that good. I am a defensive backs coach at heart, and he is one of the best I’ve seen.”
On the offensive side, the Aggies will try to improve on their No. 7 offensive ranking in the Big South. Lee and Warren will play a big part in that. Lee started all 11 games last season and played the second-most snaps on the team among offensive linemen with 648, posting an 80 grade during the season with 475 positive plays and 16 domination blocks.
Warren had an outstanding freshman season. He ranked second on the team with 24 receptions. He had 280 yards receiving and a touchdown, including a 103-yard receiving, five-receptions, one-touchdown game at Hampton on Oct. 23, 2021.
Brown earned Big South special teams player of the week three times in 2021. He connected on 10 of 16 field goals and 28 of 29 extra points to finish seventh in the league in scoring with 58 points. He was 5 of 6 in field goals from 40 yards or more.
Meanwhile, as a freshman, Tuten served as a running back, receiver, punt returner, and kickoff returner. He compiled 786 all-purpose yards on 70 touches, including 230 yards receiving and a touchdown and 215 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Dobson caught four passes last season; three of those receptions went for touchdowns.
“We have many championship players coming back,” said Washington. “We have guys who understand what it takes to be champions. But, we will need their leadership if we plan to win a quality conference like the Big South.”
Courtesy: North Carolina A&T