Coach Wants Aggies To Learn How To Handle Winning
New Offensive Starters: WR Denzel Keyes (6-4, 210, So.), LT Brandon Parker (6-7, 275, R-Fr.), RG Josh Mattocks (6-3, 310, R-Fr.), RT Wes Cole (6-6, 306, So.), QB Kwashaun Quick (6-0, 188, Jr.), WR Joseph Spann (5-10, 164, So.)
Returning Offensive Starters: LG William Ray Robinson (6-2, 307, R-Sr.)*, C Ronald Canty (6-0, 277, R-Sr.)**, WR Desmond Lawrence (5-10, 181, Sr.)*, TE Dequan Swann (6-1, 226, R-Jr.), RB Tarik Cohen (5-6, 172, So.)*, FB Anthony McMinn II (6-1, 228, R-So.)
Key Offensive Losses: LG Danye Gorrell (6-2, 306), RG Timothy Sunkins (6-4, 332), RT Nathan Isles (6-5, 324), TE/FB Devin Moore (6-0, 264), QB Lewis Kindle (6-1, 205), RB Dominique Drake (5-9, 202), RB Ricky Lewis (5-9, 187), WR Demonta Brown (6-0, 184)
New Defensive Starters: DE Angelo Keyes (6-1, 263, R-So.), LB Denzel Jones (5-9, 231, R-Jr.), NG Marquis Ragland (6-3, 265, R-So.), LB Jeremy Taylor (5-11, 183, R-Fr.), Landis Shoffner (6-0, 172, Jr.), CB Donald Mattocks (5-8, 178, R-Sr.), S Zerius Lockhart (5-10, 175, R-Fr.), CB Tony McRae (5-9, 175, Jr.)**
Returning Defensive Starters: DE Daniel Pinnix (6-1, 237, Sr.)***, DT Michael Neal (5-11, 270, Jr.)***, LB D’Vonte Grant (5-10, 195, R-Sr.)*
Key Defensive Losses: DE Tyree Hearn (6-1, 221), LB Brian Houston (5-11, 235), ROV Travis Crosby (5-9, 189), S Isaiah Martin (5-8, 185), CB D’Vonte Graham (5-7, 160), CB Ayodeji Olatoye (6-1, 197)
New Specialists: PR Khris Gardin (5-8, 160, Fr.); LS Austin Venable (5-10, 220, Fr.)
Returning Specialists: PK Cody Jones (5-11, 136, So.)***, P Dominic Frescura (6-2, 202, So.)***, KOR Tony McRae**, KOR Desmond Lawrence
Key Specialists Losses: PR D’Vonte Graham
*Preseason first-team All-MEAC
**Preseason second-team All-MEAC
***Preseason third-team All-MEAC
Strength: When you have three fifth-year seniors like D’Vonte Grant, William Ray Robinson III and Ronald Canty as leaders you’re at an advantage. Grant has the led the Aggies tackles from the first day he stepped on the field, and Robinson and Canty have been fixtures on the Aggies offensive line. Junior cornerback Tony McRae is a first-year starter but has earned enough playing time over the first two years of his career to know what he is doing on the field. When you throw his vocal leadership into the mix, the Aggies are very strong in the leadership department.
Weakness: The Aggies want a little more consistency on offense. Last season, A&T lost by five points on three separate occasions and by one point on another occasions. An extra touchdown or two in 2014 to go along with one of the best defenses in the country can’t hurt. A&T certainly believes it has the weapons with 1,000-yard rusher Tarik Cohen, All-American collegiate sprinter Desmond Lawrence and athletic quarterback Kwashaun Quick.
Preview: North Carolina A&T wants the 2014 season to start in much the same way the 2013 season started.
Last September the North Carolina A&T football team walks off the field at Kidd Brewer Stadium to near silence. The only noise is cheers from the Aggies section in a small corner of the 22,000-seat facility. A&T, a school recently coming off nine straight losing seasons, upsets three-time Division I-FCS national champion Appalachian State, a team soon to be playing a step up at the Division I-FBS. The good times do not stop there. The following week the Aggies display a strong defensive performance against Elon that results in a 23-10 win at Aggie Stadium. After a 13-day layoff the Aggies improve to 3-0 with a win at home over MEAC foe Howard on a live ESPNU telecast.
Things are looking great in Greensboro. It appears the good old days are back. The next week the Aggies are even playing in a classic (classics had gone away during the lean years), the Atlanta Football Classic at the Georgia Dome. With S.C. State, a perennial MEAC power, as the opponent, it appears to be just the showcase A&T needs to solidify its return to the top.
It is all going according to plan as A&T takes a 17-14 lead in the third quarter. But a blocked punt, a safety and a 49-yard field goal stops the good times from rolling in an instance.
The Bulldogs go on to win 29-24. The heartbreak seems to linger. The Aggies lose to a winless Hampton team on the road the following week before having a hapless performance at home to Delaware State in a 12-7 defeat.
The Aggies finish 7-4 to come away with their first back-to-back winning seasons in 13 years. But 3-0 left the coaching staff thinking about what could have been and what could be.
“We should have won nine ball games last year,” says A&T head coach Rod Broadway. “If we can teach them how to handle winning and get them to play hard each and every play, I think we’ll have a chance to sustain if we can get off to the same type of start this year.”
A 3-0 start in 2014 will be a challenge. A&T opens the season in Orlando, Fla., against Alabama A&M in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge at Bright House Networks Stadium. Coastal Carolina, an FCS quarterfinalist in 2013, a quite likely a nationally-ranked team coming into the 2014 season, will visit Aggie Stadium the following week. The Aggies close out the first three weekends of the season against an Elon team looking to invite the Aggies to their home for a little revenge.
“We have a chance to be a really good football team,” says Broadway. “But we’re still a young football team. We’re still bottom heavy when it comes to having more youth than experience. Hopefully, we have some freshmen who can come in here and compete. But I think for us to be as good as I think we can be, we’re going to have to coach better and the players are going to have to play better.”
Broadway sees three paths to sustaining success in 2014 – a good offense, staying relatively healthy and old fashion good fortune.
“We’ve been struggling offensively to put it frankly,” says Broadway. “We have not been as productive has we could have been. With some better performances, we could have had some great seasons around here. If the offense had of been as productive as the defense, we would have been a little ahead of schedule by now.”
Kwashaun Quick (6-0, 188, JR, Laurinburg, N.C.) opens this season as the head of the Aggies offense at quarterback. Quick possesses game-time experience. In each game opener over the past two seasons, Quick starts at quarterback against tough opponents. In 2012 the true freshman keeps A&T competitive against Coastal Carolina. The following year he leads the upset over Appalachian State. Also as a true freshman he came off the bench to lead the Aggies to a homecoming win over Norfolk State, the Aggies first homecoming win in seven seasons.
“So much rides on one guy,” says Broadway. “If you’ve got a good quarterback then you can do some things.”
Quick will draw assistance from a robust running game led by reigning MEAC Rookie of the Year Tarik Cohen (5-6, 172, SO, Bunn, N.C.). Cohen became the first Aggie rookie to surpass the 1,000-yard rushing mark in a season while scoring eight touchdowns and leading the MEAC in rushing at 104.4 per game. On the other side of the ball for Quick is one of the best defenses in the nation.
In Broadway’s first three seasons his defense ranks no lower than eighth nationally. His run defense ranks no lower than seventh, including a No. 1 finish in 2013. Five opponents fail to rush for more than 100 yards last season.
Broadway credits continuity for the success of his defense. He and his defensive coordinator Sam Washington are entering their eighth season together dating back to the days when Broadway is coaching at Grambling. Defensive line coach Courtney Coard plays for Broadway at N.C. Central from 2004-07 and follows him to Grambling. Outside linebacker coach Trei Oliver also comes to A&T with Broadway from Grambling.
“I’ve been a defensive guy my whole life,” says Broadway, the former defensive line coach for the Florida Gators, the University of North Carolina, Duke and East Carolina. “And then I have a staff that has been together for a long time. They know our schemes and they know how to teach what I want taught. Coach Washington’s done an outstanding job of getting the guys to play for him and play hard for him.”
The leader of Washington’s defense is outside linebacker D’Vonte Grant (5-10, 195, RSR, Charlotte, N.C.). The two-time second-team All-MEAC performer enters the 2014 season hoping to lead the Aggies in tackles for the fourth straight season. But Broadway cautions his defense not to rest on former accolades. He points out that there is room for improvement on that side of the ball too.
He recalls a few late-game drives over the years where if the defense prevents the team from scoring, A&T wins.
“We all have room to get better,” says Broadway. “As good as we’ve been, we had some chances to win games defensively and we didn’t. That is unacceptable.”
A&T’s quest for a seventh MEAC title starts in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 27 when the Aggies face Howard. The Aggies return to Atlanta to face S.C. State the next week before facing Hampton at home. If Broadway gets the improvement he seeks, the hope is the 2014 season will start and end great without the messy middle.
“Sometimes being good isn’t good enough,” says Broadway. “You’ve got to be lucky and stay healthy. We just had some injuries and we’re not deep enough to overcome those. If we stay healthy and a few bounces go our way, we’re good enough to win this thing.”