GREENSBORO (November 28, 2017) – The North Carolina A&T football team got some early returns off the No. 12 ahead of their Celebration Bowl clash against the Southwestern Athletic Conference champion on Dec. 16 at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Aggies, who are seeking to finish the 2017 season 12-0 with a Celebration Bowl win, had 12 players named first-team All-MEAC on Tuesday. Senior linebacker Marcus Albert (5-foot-10, 205, College Park, Ga.) was a third-team selection. In addition, All-American left tackle Brandon Parker (6-7, 309, R-SR, Kannapolis, NC) was named offensive lineman of the year by the conference for the third straight year. The Aggies 12 first-teamers is a school record, dwarfing the seven players they placed on the first team last year.
“That’s half the (first team), isn’t it?” asked N.C. A&T head coach Rod Broadway. “I think it’s very well deserved. Record-wise, we’re the best team in the league. Record-wise, we’re the best team in the history of the university, so I think it’s only fitting that we have a large number of guys on the team. I think it says a lot about our players and of course, the job that the staff has done developing these guys.”
Broadway earned his first-ever MEAC Coach of the Year accolade. The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) named Broadway coach of the year twice (2005, ‘06) during his time at North Carolina Central. Also at NCCU in 2006, he was named Pigskin Club of Washington, D.C., Coach of the Year. He was named coach of the year by the SWAC in 2008 when he was head coach at Grambling State. That same year, the Pigskin Club of Washington, D.C., made him their coach of the year for a second time. Following N.C. A&T’s black college national championship season in 2015, Broadway was named Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year by American Urban Radio Network.
“This thing is not about me. It never has been and hopefully, it never will be,” said Broadway. “When you have 12 players on the all-conference (first team), that’s all you need to say. We’ve got 12 players on the team, so it’s about them. I just happen to be the coach. And please give my coaching staff credit too. They’ve done an outstanding job. Not just this year but last year and the year before that. We’ve gotten better as a staff. The chemistry has gotten better.”
FIRST-TEAM ALL-MEAC AGGIES
Timadre Abram (5-10, 168, JR, defensive back, Lakeland, Fla.)
Stats: 28 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 8 pass breakups; 1st first-team All-MEAC nod
Why is he a first teamer?: Look no further than the opposite side of the field. The Aggies other starting cornerback, Mac McCain, got off to such a torrid start, it made opponents look more in Abrams direction. He held his own, helping the Aggies rank second in the conference in passing yards allowed.
Breakout Game: The Aggies toughest challenge in the conference all season was the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats. Abram broke up three passes in the game against quarterback Larry Brihm who threw for 376 yards versus the Aggies in 2016.
Broadway’s Take: He’s sort of a quiet guy, but he comes to work every day to work hard. He is steadily starting to get better. He’s starting to understand how to do things now and as a result, he had a really good year. His recognition is well-deserved.”
Elijah Bell (6-1, 221, SO, wide receiver, Wheeling, WVa.)
Stats: 54 rec., 858 yards, 11 TDs; 2nd first-team all-conference nod
Why is he a first teamer?: Have you seen him play? If not, you’re missing a treat. He can make the jump-ball catch, the acrobatic catch, the one-hand catch and he is a big-time physical receiver. The scary part is he is still improving as a route runner. He broke the Aggies single-season TD receptions record (11), and he already has 19 career TD catches in just two years.
Breakout Game: If there was any question of a sophomore jinx, the 2016 MEAC Rookie of the Year, Elijah Bell removed those doubts quickly in the 2017 season opener against Gardner-Webb. He caught five passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns, but the big takeaway was the 35-yard catch and run TD he had against GWU when he ran through two Bulldog defenders like they weren’t there. He also had a two-point conversion in the game.
Broadway’s Take: “Elijah is a special talent and a heckuva player. You can cut it anyway you want to, he’s a playmaker. Some guys can make plays and some guys are playmakers. He is one of those playmakers, and he’s made so many big plays for us throughout the course of the year. He’s just a sophomore, so he’s only going to get better and better and better.”
Marquell Cartwright (5-8, 201, R-JR, running back, High Point, NC)
Stats: 224 carries, 1,080 yards, 13 TDs; 1st first-team All-MEAC nod
Why is he a first teamer?: Well, let’s start with this. He had to replace a legend, and he did so by having a 1,000-yard rushing season, the seventh for an Aggie in the last eight years. Give him props for that alone. How much did the Aggies coaching staff trust Cartwright’s ability to take over the running back duties after Tarik Cohen was drafted by the Chicago Bears? In 2016, Cohen carried the ball 212 times. In 2017, Cartwright has 224 carries.
Breakout Game: Early in the game against Morgan State on Sept. 23, Cartwright, known for being a bruiser at running back, broke through a big hole and showed off his tremendous speed with a 72-yard touchdown run. He had a career-best 176 rushing yards in the Aggies win.
Broadway’s Take: “I said before the season that we’re losing an All-American, but we have all-conference running back right here on campus. I love the way that guy plays the game. It’s downhill and it’s physical. He brings a totally different element to the way we play this game. We have those big offensive linemen upfront that can get on top of people, then Cartwright shows up and moves everything forward. You know, I think he can be an All-American player for us. He was so close on so many plays of breaking a big run. I think if he relaxes a little bit and let the game come to him instead of always trying to be a home run hitter, he can get even better.”
Khris Gardin (5-7, 185, SR, return specialist, Morganton, NC)
Stats: 26 punt returns, 353 yards, 13.6 per return, 1 TD; 14 kickoff returns, 376 yards, 26.9 per return; 2nd first-team All-MEAC nod, third overall (2nd team in 2016)
Why is he a first teamer?: A) Teams do not like to punt the ball to him, yet he is still successful, and B) The Aggies are not required to kick off often, so he had and did make the best of his opportunities. In fact, Gardin has had three kickoff returns for touchdowns called back or we could be talking about another guaranteed All-American recognition. Gardin has the second-most punt return yards in NCAA FCS history (1,576).
Breakout Game: Gardner-Webb decided to challenge the 2017 preseason All-American, and Gardin showcased why so media outlets were high on him coming into the season. He returned five punts for 150 yards including an 88-yard punt for a touchdown in the third quarter.
Broadway’s Take: “What Khris has done in his career is amazing. I think he has had six kicks (for touchdowns) brought back in his career. We’ve just received some untimely penalties on a lot of his returns or who knows where he would be in the NCAA record books. I can remember the first punt he ever caught. He fumbled it in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge. He came to the sideline with eyes as big as Coke bottles. I put my arms around his neck and said to him, ‘Let it go. We’re gonna need you’. And of course, it’s been history after that.”
Darryl Johnson, Jr. (6-5, 226, R-SO, defensive lineman, Kingsland, Ga.)
Stats: 38 tackles (24 unassisted), 15.5 TFLs, 6.5 sacks, 3 pass breakups, 4 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery; 1st first-team All-MEAC nod
Why is he a first teamer?: He has been a nuisance all season for opponents. His long reach gets him to ball carries quicker, it’s hard to get out of his swipe range for causing fumbles and his ability to rush the passer is not bad either. He was fourth in the nation in forced fumbles and 22nd in tackles for loss.
Breakout Game: Johnson had three unassisted tackles against Bethune-Cookman on Nov. 21. All three were made in the BCU backfield including two sacks. His sack with 13 seconds remaining sealed the Aggies 24-20 win over the Wildcats.
Broadway’s Take: “The way we play defense, we’re going to have one or two defensive linemen on the all-conference team every year. He is another one of those guys who has reaped the results of the effort, the energy and the work he put in to getting better. Darryl is a hard worker with a high motor. He’s long, has an outstanding reach and can knock balls out of the air. He does it all for us.”
Darriel Mack (6-2, 300, R-SR, center, Clio, SC)
Stats: 641 snaps, 42 knockdown blocks, 83.4 average grade, 4,725 yards of total offense 2nd first-team All-MEAC nod
Why is he a first teamer?: Mack’s average grade and knockdown block count for the season is close to his All-American teammate Brandon Parker who is slated to be drafted by an NFL team in the spring. That is good company to be in and that will get you recognized by and votes from MEAC head coaches.
Breakout Game: Mack’s highest grade of the season was a 90 against Division II Mars Hill. While it may be easy to scoff at, he followed that with an 86 against the Charlotte 49ers, an FBS school out of Conference-USA. The Aggies collected 420 yards of offense in the 35-31 upset.
Broadway’s Take: “Mack’s personality has really blossomed since he’s been here. You know, as a person, he’s really come a long, long way. He’s a joy to be around. He’s a joy to coach. Football-wise, he gets it. He understands his role, how to do things, and you know, I think that’s what happens when you have someone four years in your program. He’s just got better and better and better. He missed some time early in his career because he had some injuries. He’s gotten those things worked out and over the last couple of years, he’s been productive.”
Franklin (Mac) McCain III (5-11, 174, R-FR, defensive back, Greensboro, NC)
Stats: 46 tackles (33 unassisted), 5 INTs, 274 INT return yards, 3 INT returns for TDs; 8 pass breakups; 1st first-team All-MEAC nod Why is he a first teamer?: His first four games were about as an impressive as a collegiate debut can be. Twenty-seven tackles, five interceptions, three pick-6’s and three pass breakups will get people’s attention.
Breakout Game: The breakout game was Charlotte. The sequel to the breakout game was Morgan State. McCain had the game-winning INT return for touchdown. Within minutes, a Charlotte Observer reporter tweeted out that he was the grandson of civil rights icon Franklin McCain. He then returned two pick-6’s the following week against Morgan State including a 100-yard return and the media interview requests flooded in from there.
Broadway’s Take: “He could be another great one at this university. He has a bright future if he develops the right work ethic, the right attitude and really dedicates himself to becoming a great player. He can run. He has a pretty good feel for where he is on the field, he’s just got to continue to study the game, understand the game and understand his role. But the sky is the limit.”
Brandon Parker (6-7, 309, R-SR, offensive lineman, Kannapolis, NC)
Stats: 656 snaps, 48 knockdown blocks, 84 percent average grade, 4,725 yards of offense; 3rd first-team All-MEAC nod; fourth overall (he was a third-team selection in 2014)
Why is he a first teamer?: With the spotlight on him all season, something most offensive linemen are not used to, he did not crack under the pressure. In fact, despite having NFL scouts at practice every week, he took it in stride and picked up another MEAC Offensive Lineman of the Year award, the third of his career.
Breakout Game: South Carolina State’s defensive line has notoriously given the Aggies fits over the past few seasons. But Mr. Parker kept quarterback Lamar Raynard upright for the vast majority of the game as the Aggies compiled 425 yards of offense. Parker had a season-high seven knockdown blocks in the game and graded out with an 82.
Broadway’s Take: “Well everybody knows about Parker, and all the scouts rave about him. He’ll be on somebody’s NFL roster next year. He has had made tremendous growth during his time as a player here. He put in the time, and he put in the work, so now he is starting to see the results of all those workouts and all that weightlifting he has done throughout his career. And for people to say you’re the best offensive lineman in your league for three straight years – that’s big.”
Marcus Pettiford (6-3, 274, R-SO, offensive lineman, Durham, NC)
Stats: 519 snaps, 22 knockdown blocks, 83.3 percent average grade, 4,725 yards of offense; 1st first-team All-MEAC nod
Why is he a first teamer?: His presence made the Aggies offensive line the envy of the league. Opponents could not take for granted that the Aggies wanted to run behind Parker on the left side because N.C. A&T was more than comfortable letting the athletic and agile Pettiford take the lead on the right side.
Breakout Game: The N.C. A&T vs. Bethune-Cookman game Oct. 21 was a grueling contest that the Aggies pounded out on the ground with 55 yards rushing in the fourth quarter. Pettiford graded out at 87 percent and had five knockdown blocks in the game.
Broadway’s Take: “If he dedicates himself to hard work like Brandon (Parker) did, he could also be an All-American. He’s so athletic and light on his feet. I can say this about Marcus, he’s changed. He’s starting to develop, and I hope the light goes off and he realizes how important it is to really work and develop because if he does, he can be a great one here.”
Lamar Raynard (6-4, 200, R-JR, quarterback, High Point, NC)
Stats: 186-for-285 (.653), 26 TD passes, 5 INTs, 2,707 yards, 171.6 QB efficiency, 51 carries, 168 yards, 3 TDs; 1st first-team All-MEAC nod, second overall (named second-team All-MEAC in 2016)
Why is he a first teamer?: There was a time when Alan Hooker’s records were believed to be written in ink because the Aggie quarterbacks who followed him had a hard time exceeding his marks. Not Lamar. He toppled Hooker’s more than 30-year old single-season records for completions, touchdown passes and touchdowns responsible for (29). For good measure, he took down Maseo Bolin’s single-season passing record as well. He is even after his own record. If he has a good Celebration Bowl he will break the single-season mark for best passing percentage he set last season at 64.6 percent.
Breakout Game: N.C. A&T fans quickly realized that an upgrade of Lamar Raynard had been downloaded after he went 19-for-22 for 321 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in the Aggies 45-3 season-opening win over Gardner-Webb.
Broadway’s Take: “Raynard has really grown as a quarterback. He is getting to where he is getting the ball out of his hand and making good, sound decisions and not turning it over too much. I think he has also grown as a leader. He’s got this quiet demeanor about him, but he has a competitive drive that I think drives him to be an excellent quarterback.”
Trey Scott (6-1, 220, GR, tight end, Powder Springs, Ga.)
Stats: 24 rec., 347 yards, 3 TD’s
Why is he a first teamer?: He is the best tight end in the MEAC. In fact, the Aggies may have the two best tight ends in the league considering junior Leroy Hill was a first-team All-MEAC selection in 2016. In a college football world where the tight end is used less and less, the Aggies have figured out to utilize the position.
Breakout Game: He only had 40 yards receiving but all four of his catches went for first downs as Morgan State became victim to the drag route that made Scott so effective during the 2017 season in a 49-17 Aggies win.
Broadway’s Take: “We already had an all-conference tight end. That’s amazing. Trey came in and had the ability to get the ball in the open field and make some dazzling moves. I’m happy for Trey. He is a graduate student who came in and go on a good football team – a winning program – and had a big year. He really contributed to our season this year.”
Jeremy Taylor (5-11, 190, R-SR, linebacker, Kinston, NC)
Stats: 65 tackles (46 unassisted), 7.5 TFLs, 3 forced fumbles, 5 INTs, 133 INT return yards, 8 pass breakups, one pick-6
Why is he a first teamer?: Because there are not many things he is incapable of doing on the defensive side of the football. He is a good tackler, he is good in coverage and he is good at taking the ball away from the other team. He leads the team in tackles and is tied for the team league in interceptions and pass breakups.
Breakout Game: His versatility was on full display on Sept. 30 at S.C. State when he made three tackles, forced two fumbles, picked off one pass and broke up another in the Aggies 21-7 win over the Bulldogs.
Broadway’s Take: “Jeremy’s a playmaker. I don’t know man, he just makes plays all over the place. Let me repeat myself. He makes plays, he makes plays, he makes plays. He is one of the guys you can depend on to do the right things on the field and to be in the right spot.”