NEW FACES: Marquis Bennett (Fr.), Dorian Claggett (Fr.), Josiah Elliott (Fr.), Barry Harris (Fr.), Franky Mills (Fr.), Maurice Rucker (So.), Nick Summers (So.), Darren White (Fr.).
THEY’RE BACK: Darius Bogertey (Sr.), Christian Harrison (Jr.), Saeed Jones (So.), Omozokpia Olumese (So.), Neegbeah Reeves (So.).
KEY LOSSES: None.
STRENGTHS: The leadership of Bogertey, Harrison and Jones will be vital for the Aggies this season.
WEAKNESSES: Youth. It is usually a tough transition from high school to college level competition.
EXPECTATIONS: The Aggies were one of the top four teams in the conference last season. They’re looking to build upon that.
PREVIEW: Challenge FAMU? The defending MEAC men’s cross country champions? A&T men’s cross country?
It is not far-fetched according to Duane Ross, the Aggies director of track and field programs. He has a roster full of young runners he believes can take A&T men’s cross country to places it has never been – first place when the MEAC Cross Country Championships end.
“We’re going to take a shot at them,” said Ross, referring to the Rattlers. “It will not be easy. They have a very good team coming back. But we really went out and brought in some quality guys to really help us get this program off the ground. We have a number of cross country runners who can genuinely compete in the sport.”
The importance of building a strong cross country team is foundational. If the Aggies can establish a winner in cross country, then it will reflect positively on the other two track programs, indoor and outdoor track and field.
“We’re not going to overlook cross country at all,” said Ross. “We want to have balance within our program. There are a lot of distance points out there to be had (in indoor and outdoor conference meets), and we’re not just going to surrender those points without a fight. I think a championship cross country team will help the entire machine move.”
The season opens Aug. 30 at the Western Carolina Cross Country Invitational. The MEAC championships are Oct. 26 in Princess Anne, Md. Ross doesn’t know who his top five runners will be, but he does know this.
“There are going to be eight guys all year competing for that No. 5 five spot,” he said. “That’s how competitive this team will be.”
Senior Darius Bogertey and junior Christian Harrison and sophomore Saeed Jones will look to be the main parts Ross needs to get things moving. Bogertey, who was injured last season, brings experience and leadership to the team. Jones and Harrison were NCAA regional qualifiers in 2012.
Jones was the Aggies top runner last season. He finished the MEAC 8k championships in 26:31.43 for a 15th place finish. Harrison was consistently the Aggies second best runner. His best time of the season was the 27:58.20 he clocked at the MEAC championships.
“I’m looking to Christian and Saeed to be our top guys, to be our leaders,” said Ross. “I want them to be aggressive and really push the other guys to succeed. It’s all about making these young guys better. It’s all about making each other better.”
Taking FAMU’s title will be a difficult task considering the Aggies head into the season with six freshmen and five sophomores. But based on last season, perhaps the Aggies are not that far away. They finished fourth last season at the 2012 MEAC cross country championships, their best finish in 17 years.