GREENSBORO – When you’re 5-foot-6, 173-pounds you have to make the best of your opportunities. That has been the story of North Carolina A&T running back Tarik Cohen. In the Aggies 27-6 win over Delaware State on Saturday afternoon at Aggie Stadium, Cohen became the Aggies all-time leading rusher.
A vintage 28-yard run by Cohen in the first quarter where he weaved in and out of traffic making multiple would-be tacklers miss created the historic moment. In 32 games played, he broke Mike Mayhew’s record of 3,521 yards set in 2012. Like Mayhew, Cohen wears No. 28 and like Mayhew, Cohen broke the record on a nationally-televised ESPNU broadcast from Aggie Stadium.
Cohen now has 3,623 career yards, and with one year of eligibility remaining he needs 1,049 yards to break S.C. State running back William Ford’s MEAC rushing record.
“It’s an honor to have a record like this considering all of the great running backs who came before me,” said Cohen. “This school has produced some great running backs like Maurice Smith, Maurice Hicks and the guy’s record who I broke today Mike Mayhew.”
As a 10th grader at Bunn High School, Cohen didn’t seem like the likely candidate to have more collegiate rushing yards than former NFL pros from A&T like Hicks, Smith and Michael Basnight and George Ragsdale. Or that he would have more yards than the great running backs of the early 90’s like James White and Barry Turner who share the running duties as teammates.
But that is the story of Cohen, a man who is willing to make the best of the opportunities presented. In the 10th grade, Cohen was a hard-hitting safety. There wasn’t much thought about him being a runner because of his size. He then got the opportunity to return a few kicks on the kickoff team. His success there led to the possibility that he indeed could be a running back.
That moment came the next year when the Bunn coaches moved Cohen to running back. But as far as translating those great high school runs into a college scholarship was still a longshot because of his size. Even North Carolina A&T coach Rod Broadway was not convinced when assistant Trei Oliver came to him with film on Cohen.
“He’s too small,” Broadway remembers saying. But Oliver was persistent to the point where he finally convinced Broadway to go see him play in person. Again, Cohen made the best of the opportunity by impressing the veteran coach enough to get his one and only Division I offer to play college football. Broadway said his decision to sign Cohen had nothing to do with him someday making history.
“You’ don’t think about those things when you are recruiting,” said Broadway. “You are just trying to get them signed up and committed. You never know. But he’s had an outstanding career, and he’s got plenty more to go.”
Cohen’s career started with him backing up Dominique Drake. Four weeks into the season, Drake went down with an injury. Cohen received his career start on Oct. 12, 2013 at Hampton because of Drake’s injury. Again, the opportunistic Cohen had 180 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. He also had 119 yards receiving and a touchdown. The position has been his ever since and now so is the record.
“Most of the credit goes to my offensive line for all of the years that I’ve been here,” said Cohen. “I especially want to thank my first O-Line that I came in with because I wasn’t adjusted to the college speed and they made extremely big lames for me to run through. I just followed them.”