DURHAM - Mike Mayhew finished his career on Saturday in style by scoring the game-winning touchdown in overtime. Now, he is a part of the debate. Who is the greatest running back in A&T history?
Over his four-year career, Mayhew rushed for a school-record 3,521 yards and 29 touchdowns on a school-record 761 carries. But those records mean nothing when Aggie fans and former Aggie football players are discussing greatest A&T running back ever.
Those who played with Mayhew will tell you he was a complete back. He also made 57 receptions and he is one of only three players in school history with more than 4,000 all-purpose yards. They will say that Mayhew kept the program from completely going over the cliff. The Aggies were a combined 3-31 the previous three years before his arrival. During his four years, the Aggies went 18-24 and that includes a 1-10 season where the Aggies struggled to replace starting quarterback Lewis Kindle after he went down with a preseason, season-ending injury.
Mayhew has a chance to become MEAC Offensive Player of the Year for the second straight season later this month. But before Mayhew is crowned best A&T back ever, there are three other running backs who are in the conversation. George Ragsdale, James White and Maurice Hicks have their own credentials.
Ragsdale played at A&T from 1972-75. He rushed for 1,989 yards, and helped the Aggies win their first-ever MEAC Championship. Those who played with Ragsdale will tell you he played with a great quarterback in Ellsworth Turner, therefore he didn't carry the ball as many times as others. They will also point to his pro career where he spent a combined six seasons with the Tampa Buccaneers and Washington Redskins.
The White teammates and supporters will tell you that when White left A&T in 1994, he was the all-time leading rusher with 2,783 yards. He did this from the fullback position. That means instead of lining up seven yards behind center, which gives tailbacks more of an opportunity to spot the hole, White had to line up three yards behind center to operate. All four years of his career, White also had to share the ball with tailback Barry Turner who rushed for 2,726 career yards. White led the Aggies to two MEAC titles.
Then there is Hicks, who captured the Aggies all-time rushing record in only two years - the 2000 and 2001 seasons. The Clemson transfer also has his supporters. His teammates will point to the video tape. Look at all the long and exciting runs he had in his career. He rushed for a single-season record 1,487 yards in 2000, and he broke the national single-game rushing record with 473 yards against Morgan State on Oct. 6, 2001. In fact, Hicks owns three of the best single-game rushing performance in Aggie history. Hicks also had a decent NFL career.
The Mayhew detractors will point the number of carries it took him to break the record. It took him more than 600 touches to catch Hicks. The Ragsdale detractors will tell you Ragsdale never had a 1,000-yard season, while the White detractors will point to the offense he played in. The wing-T formation is designed to compile a bunch of rushing yards. The knock against Hicks is that for all his yards and great games, the Aggies never won a MEAC title with him uniform.
No matter whom you prefer, there is no question the Aggies were fortunate to have all four men in Aggie uniforms. Ragsdale and White are A&T Sports Hall of Famers and Hicks and Mayhew will soon join them.
MAYHEW'S REPLACEMENT: The question will now turn to who will replace Mayhew during the 2013 season. The chief candidate seems to be junior Ricky Lewis, who came on late in the season to become a weapon offensively. He rushed for a combined 216 yards and four touchdowns over the Aggies final four games, all wins. He scored twice on Saturday to help the Aggies defeat N.C. Central.
"He is a special type of player," said Mayhew. "I know he only has one more year, but I hope he has a break out year. He deserves it."
Junior Dominique Drake also returns. Drake started the Aggies first four games in 2012 before a knee injury derailed his season. There is also the possibility ECU transfer Desmond Lawrence will be in uniform next season.
7-4: A chant went out as the North Carolina A&T players walked back to the locker room following a win over N.C. Central. "Seven and four, losers no more," they shouted. How true it is. The Aggies finished 7-4 overall and finished in a third-place tie in the MEAC after being picked to finish sixth. The Aggies could also make an appearance in HBCU polls next week. They did all of this despite having a total of only 43 players on scholarship. The Aggies won seven games and had the No. 2 defense in the nation by using numerous walk-ons. A&T fans went nine long years with a winning record, and there was a 2 ½ -year period when the Aggies didn't win a game. There is a since that brighter days are ahead after the Aggies closed the season on a four-game winning streak.
NEWS & NOTES TO CLOSE THE SEASON: The Aggies and the Eagles played in another classic. Seven out of the last 10 meetings have been settled by six or fewer points. Three of those games have gone into overtime and four of the games were decided on the very last play of the game. As the regular-season in the Division I-FCS comes to an end, the Aggies are ranked second nationally in total defense, pass efficiency defense and scoring defense. They lead the MEAC in rushing defense, total defense, fewest sacks allowed and scoring defense. Left tackle William Robinson, left guard Danye Gorrell, center Ronald Canty, defensive ends Tyree Hearn and Tony Mashburn, linebacker D'Vonte Grant and cornerback D'Vonte Graham started every game for A&T in 2012. Wide receiver Marquis Gorham broke the school record for receptions by a freshman with 38. He broke Willie Wright's 44-year old record. The Aggies were more likely to convert a 3rd-and-2 more than any other third down. Opponents had 154 offensive possessions against A&T's defense. On 61 of those possessions the Aggies defense forced a 3-and-out. The Aggies forced 30 turnovers and 12 of those turnovers led to touchdowns.