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Washington’s first-year success is No. 4

N.C. A&T head football coach Sam Washington was named Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference coach of the year in his first year at the helm of the successful Aggies program. He deserved it.

On Jan. 8, 2018, Washington became the 19th head football coach in school history. Washington admitted he had been handed the keys to a Ferrari. Among the players returning for the 2018 season was quarterback Lamar Raynard, the 2017 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year. Raynard’s high school buddy and 2017 1,000-yard rusher Marquell Cartwright were also back along with first-team All-MEAC receiver Elijah Bell.

The Aggies also returned eight players on defense including NFL defensive end prospect and MEAC defensive player of the year Darryl Johnson, Jr. and All-American cornerback Mac McCain III. With all the essential parts in place, Washington just wanted to make sure he kept the luxury sports car running without wrecking it. N.C. A&T got on the road going 100 miles per hour with the car running smoothly.

The Aggies opened the season ranked 14th in the nation on the FCS level and defeated the No. 6 team Jacksonville State in the annual FCS Kickoff in Alabama. The following week the Aggies defeated FBS institution East Carolina of the highly-regarded American Athletic Conference. The win marked the third straight season the Aggies were victorious against an FBS school. The Aggies then climbed to No. 4 in the nation, their highest ranking ever, after blowing out Gardner-Webb 45-6 at BB&T Stadium.

After the GWU win, the Aggies rose to No. 4 in the nation, the highest ranking in school history. Then adversity entered. Raynard went through a series of injuries including one leading up to the Morgan State game. In what was deemed a non-conference game before the start of the season because the departure of Hampton University left some schools with only seven conference games, the winless Morgan State Bears ended the Aggies 15-game winning streak at N.C. A&T’s BB&T Stadium with a 16-13 win on a 36-yard field goal with two seconds remaining.

The Aggies then found themselves trailing 16-10 at halftime five days later to S.C. State before a second-half rally fended off a second straight loss. But on Oct. 13, the Aggies did drop a conference game as Florida A&M overcame a 21-6 halftime deficit to defeat the Aggies 22-21 on a 26-yard field goal with four seconds remaining. In an instant, all the expectations coming into the 2018 season seemed to be weighing on the Aggies.

“We needed the wakeup call,” said Washington. “We started to smell ourselves so to speak. We thought we were better than the way we were practicing. Losing to Florida A&M was a turning point for putting things back into perspective. Despite how good you are, you still have to do the little things for big things to happen for you.

You can’t assume people are going to lay down for you because of your past success,” Washington continued. “You have to play the game right. There is a reason those games are on the schedule. You have to work hard to win every time.”

Washington led the Aggies to four straight wins to close the regular season. All four wins were by double-figures including a 35-10 win over the No. 2 in the conference Bethune-Cookman, a road win at Savannah State without Raynard in the lineup and a 45-0 win at archrival N.C. Central. FAMU went on to lose two more conference games pathing the way for the Aggies return and win the Celebration Bowl.

The Aggies finished 10-2. They placed 15 players on the all-conference teams including seven players on the first team. Senior Micah Shaw was named MEAC offensive lineman of the year and Johnson was the league’s defensive MVP.

“The expectations at this university are always high and that speaks to the excellence this university has displayed over the years,” said Washington. “Thanks to the excellence of coach Broadway, those expectations were made even higher. Coach (Broadway) built a program here where people expect us to do great things. I’m thrilled we are still meeting those expectations.”