GREENSBORO – It is hard to meet expectations when everyone is focused on preventing you from doing what you do best. Therefore the accolade North Carolina A&T junior running back Tarik Cohen (5-foot-6, 173, Bunn, N.C.) added on Monday to go on top of all the other accolades he has received over his three-year career is a rare one. Cohen, as announced by the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, was named MEAC Offensive Player of the Year. He is the first Aggie football player since Connell Maynor to win back-to-back offensive player of the year awards from the MEAC.
One of Cohen’s offensive lineman was also recognized with a rare award for an Aggie. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Parker (6-7, 279, Kannapolis, N.C.) earned MEAC Offensive Lineman of the Year honors. Parker is only the second Aggie in school history to win the award joining Qasim Mitchell who claimed the award in 2001.
“I think both honors are well-deserved,” said N.C. A&T head coach Rod Broadway. “Both young men are excellent players, and they are all-around good people. I’m just so very proud of both guys.”
Both men earned first-team all-conference along with senior cornerback Tony McRae (5-9, 178, Laurinburg, N.C.), redshirt junior defensive lineman Marquis Ragland (6-3, 271, Fayetteville, N.C.) and sophomore return specialist Khris Gardin (5-7, 158, Morganton, N.C.). The second team includes junior wide receiver Denzel Keyes (6-4, 210, Kinston, N.C.), his brother Angelo Keyes at defensive end (6-1, 268, R-JR, Kinston, N.C.) and senior linebacker Denzel Jones (5-9, 244, Greensboro, N.C.). Senior defensive tackle Michael Neal (5-11, 260, Greensboro, N.C.) and senior cornerback Marquis Boyan (5-11, 191, Columbia, S.C.) were third-team selections.
For the third straight season Cohen led the MEAC in rushing and went over 1,000 yards. He is the Aggies all-time leading rusher with 3,735 yards with another year of eligibility remaining. He has 1,248 yards (113.5 per game) going into the Aggies final game of the season, the Dec. 19 Celebration Bowl in Atlanta against the SWAC champion. Cohen also led the league in touchdowns (12) and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. Nationally, he was eighth in rushing yards per game and ninth in total rushing yards.
“For him to have the type of year he had and to be named the best offensive player in the conference when the game plan was always centered on stopping him says something about this young man’s heart and his will to achieve,” said Broadway. “He has a warrior’s mentality.”
Parker has started each game the Aggies have played over the past two seasons. He only had two penalties called against him this season while registering a little more than four pancake blocks per game. He also did not surrender a sack from his left tackle position this season. The Aggies had the second-best rushing offense in the conference.
“The great thing about Brandon is he is still learning how to play the position,” said Broadway. “He is going to be tough to deal with over the next two years. But he did the things we asked him to do. He gained weight. He became more physical, but I think the thing that really helps him is his knowledge of the game. He knows what to do and where to be.”
Gardin has a chance to break the NCAA FCS record in punt return yards in a season. He has 666 punt return yards, two shy of the NCAA record with one game to play. Unless he loses major yardage on Dec. 19, he will hold the NCAA record for punt return yards per game. The record is 54.7 per game, he stands at 60.5 per game. Gardin has two punt returns for touchdowns this season, a 71-yarder at Hampton and an 82-yarder against Howard. He had 203 punt return yards on four returns at Hampton on Oct. 3.
McRae is a two-time first-team All-MEAC performer. He was tied for third in the conference in interceptions, and he defended seven passes. In addition to being an outstanding cover corner, he is also an excellent tackler. He is the second-leading tackler on an Aggies team that is ranks third nationally in total defense. Ragland is a big part of that ranking. He demands double teams and his specialty is disrupting offenses by getting excellent penetration upfront. Ragland has 46 tackles and 11.5 tackles for loss.
The Aggies are 9-2 on the season and won a share of the MEAC title with a 7-1 mark. It was the Aggies second straight MEAC title in a row and their eighth overall.