NORFOLK, Va. – The North Carolina A&T football team went nine straight seasons (2004-12) without being predicted to finish in the top 5 of the MEAC standings.
On Friday at the annual MEAC Media Luncheon at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott, the Aggies were not only picked to win the league, but MEAC head coaches and sports information directors also selected A&T star junior running back Tarik Cohen (5-foot-6, 173, Bunn, N.C.) as the preseason offensive player of the year. Joining Cohen on the preseason first team are senior cornerback Tony McRae (5-9, 178, Laurinburg, N.C.), redshirt junior defensive tackle Marquis Ragland (6-3, 271, Fayetteville, N.C.) and junior place kicker Cody Jones (5-11, 141, Gastonia, N.C.).
Senior defensive tackle Michael Neal (5-11, 260, Greensboro, N.C.) , senior rover Landis Shoffner (6-0, 186, Greensboro, N.C.) and redshirt sophomore left tackle Brandon Parker (6-7, 279, Kannapolis, N.C.) were second-team selections, while junior offensive guard Wes Cole (6-6, 335, Norwood, N.C.) was selected to the third team.
A&T, who finished last season 9-3 overall and 6-2 in the MEAC, received nine out of 22 first-place votes and received 425 points, 17 more than S.C. State who was picked to finish second with four first-place votes. Bethune-Cookman (one first-place vote), N.C. Central (four first-place votes) and Morgan State, last season’s MEAC representative in the NCAA FCS playoffs, rounded out the top 5. The MEAC race finished in a five-way tie for first in 2014 with A&T, Morgan State, Bethune-Cookman, NCCU and S.C. State sharing the MEAC title.
“How about that?” said fifth-year head coach Rod Broadway about being picked to win the conference. Broadway is four wins shy of his 100th career victory.
“When we stated four years ago, no one thought we were in the position to compete for a championship after coming off 27 straight losses,” he continued. “Just getting to the point where we are expected to do well is a great accomplishment by our players and coaches.”
Cohen, the league’s co-offensive player of the year in 2014, is coming off of a season where he rushed for 1,340 yards and 15 touchdowns, the second most yards in a season in A&T history. Only Maurice Hicks (2,812) has rushed for more yards in a two-year period than Cohen (2,488) in program history. Cohen has led in the MEAC in rushing over his first two seasons at A&T, and also led the MEAC in scoring (96 points) and touchdowns (16).
Nationally, he ranked third in yards per carry (6.8), 11th in rushing yards per game (121.8) and 15th in rushing TDs.
“He’s just a special talent,” Broadway said. “I think what makes him special is his will to win and work ethic. He is one of our most talented players, and he has the heart of a champion. He has an excellent skill set with that work ethic, which makes him a great player.”
McRae serves two roles for the Aggies. He is their top corner and kickoff returner. He was a first-team defensive back and second-team kickoff returner in 2014 after making five interceptions, breaking up 11 more passes and earning 25.7 yards per kickoff return. He ranked 13th nationally in passes defended (1.3 per game) and 15th in INTs (0.4 per game) as the Aggies led the nation in turnovers gained and were second in INTs.
Ragland is coming off a career season in which he made 69 tackles (38 unassisted), 15.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks and he blocked three kicks. From his nose guard position, he was third in the MEAC in sacks and fifth in tackles for loss.
Jones was a first-team 2014 All-MEAC selection after connecting on 15 of 19 (.789) field goals and 45 of 47 (.957) extra points. His 90 points were second in the MEAC behind Cohen. He led the conference in field goal percentage and was second in extra point percentage. Jones also doubled as the Aggies punter last season, ranking seventh in the league in yards per punt.
A&T opens the season Sept. 5 at home against Shaw University at 6 p.m. The Aggies first conference game is Oct. 3 at Hampton at 1 p.m.