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EAST GREENSBORO – North Carolina A&T football is back!! The two-time defending Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) champions and the two-time defending Historically Black College or University (HBCU) champions report to training camp on August 1. The Aggies will hold their first practice 4 p.m., Friday, August 2 at Greensboro Ben L. Smith High School. 

North Carolina A&T is trying to do what has only been done one other time in history –  win three straight outright Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) championships.

The S.C. State Bulldogs won four straight outright MEAC titles from 1980-83. If the Aggies win the 2019 MEAC title, it would be their fifth MEAC title in six years making the program the most dominant in the MEAC since SCSU won five out of six from 1977-83.

Over the past five years, the Aggies are an impressive 34-5 (.872) and over the last three years, the Aggies are 21-2 (.913). The last time they lost more than one MEAC game in a season was 2014. 

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Those past accomplishments will not help the Aggies in 2019. What it does is put a bullseye squarely on their A and T as the other eight MEAC schools will try to prevent the Aggies from going to their third straight Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta as the conference's representative in the game that pits the MEAC champ against the SWAC champ. 

N.C. A&T has won the last two Celebration Bowls which has also yielded them the title of HBCU national champion. In fact, in the four years of the Celebration Bowl's existence, the Aggies have won the game three times. Last season, the Aggies finished 10-2 overall after defeating SWAC representative Alcorn State 24-22 in Atlanta. They were also 6-1 in the MEAC. 

This season, the Aggies return four starters on offense and four starters on defense. What may give the rest of the league hope is what the Aggies lost. Gone are 2017 MEAC offensive player of the year and quarterback Lamar Raynard (6-foot-4, 195, High Point, N.C.). Raynard owns several school records including being the Aggies all-time leader in touchdown passes (68). 

Raynard's high school teammate and longtime friend Marquell Cartwright (5-8, 203, High Point, N.C.) also played his final season of football for the Aggies last season. Cartwright, who had the difficult job of replacing N.C. A&T legend Tarik Cohen at running back after Cohen was drafted by the Chicago Bears in 2016, did so by rushing for a combined 2,196 yards and 21 touchdowns over the past two seasons. The Aggies also lost MEAC offensive lineman of the year Micah Shaw (6-1, 264, Fayetteville, N.C.). 

Defensively, Darryl Johnson, Jr.'s(6-5, 232, Kingsland, Ga.) decision to forego his final year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft left the Aggies without the possibility of having the MEAC defensive player of the year back on the field returning. Along with Johnson, the Aggies lost two other starters on the defensive line including two-time All-MEAC defensive tackle Julian McKnight (6-3, 287, Conyers, Ga.). 

Long-time starters at linebacker, Kiaundric Richardson (6-0, 211, Gainesville, Fla.) and Deion Jones (5-11, 203 Belmont, N.C.) will not return along with two-time All-MEAC cornerback Timadre Abram (5-10, 168, Lakeland, Fla.). Malik Wilson (5-11, 166, Burlington, N.C.), who became one of the best return men in the nation last season, is now playing in the CFL. It was Wilson's kickoff return or touchdown that helped the Aggies win the Celebration Bowl last season. 

The coaching staff that has been responsible for the Aggies run of success over the past nine years, however, is largely intact. 

Sam Washington returns for his second season as the Aggies head coach after winning the conference's coach of the year honor in 2018. Before becoming head coach, Washington served seven seasons as the Aggies defensive coordinator under Broadway.   

Two other coaches on the staff, running backs coach Shawn Gibbs and co-defensive coordinator Courtney Coard have been a part of the current run since the beginning. Other than Broadway's departure in 2017, the Aggies haven't had any changes to the staff since 2016. 

That staff has some key pieces returning on offense including third-team All-MEAC running back Jah-Maine Martin (5-10, 203, RJR, Conway, S.C.), record-breaking receiver Elijah Bell (6-1, 225, SR, Wheeling, WVa.), two other star receivers in Zachary Leslie (6-3, 203, RJR, Lawndale, N.C.) and Ron Hunt (6-1, 173, SR, Greensboro, N.C.) and two-time All-MEAC left tackle Marcus Pettiford (6-4, 286, RSR, Durham, N.C.).Jah-Maine Martin, A&T RB

N.C. A&T's defense routinely ranks among the best in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). That should not change this season. N.C. A&T's defense is led by All-American cornerback Frank "Mac" McCain III (6-0, 175, RJR, Greensboro, N.C.). N.C. A&T's leading tackler from last season, linebacker Antoine Wilder (5-10, 199, RSR, Atlanta, Ga.) returns along with All-MEAC defensive tackle Justin Cates (6-2, 257, GR, Goldsboro, N.C.). 

Defense has been the foundation of the Aggies success. Their defense has not finished lower than 20th over the past eight seasons. They have finished in the top-10 in six of those seasons. The run defense has finished in the top-5 in six out of the last eight seasons. 

Their defense will be tested early when they welcome Piedmont rival Elon to BB&T Stadium to open the season on Aug. 31 at 6 p.m. Both teams finished the 2018 season nationally-ranked. N.C. A&T will then try to beat win a game over an FBS opponent for the fourth straight season they face the Duke Blue Devils of the ACC. 

The Aggies final non-conference game is at Charleston Southern. The Bucs have fallen on hard times lately, but they were a playoff team from 2013-15. The conference season for the Aggies opens on a Thursday night (Sept. 26) on ESPNU when they face Delaware State at 7:30 p.m. at BB&T Stadium. N.C. A&T will be looking for their sixth straight win over the Hornets. 

Two straight MEAC road games will then face the Aggies, at Norfolk State and Florida A&M. The Rattlers upset the Aggies last season by outscoring the Aggies 16-0 in the second half to pull out a 22-21 win in Greensboro. Howard will then visit Greensboro for the Greatest Homecoming On Earth on Oct. 26. 

After playing every year since 1971, the Bison and Aggies will be facing each other for the first time since the 2016 season. November will start with a difficult game at S.C. State on Nov. 2 followed by a game at Morgan State and two difficult home games against teams who have been traditionally strong in the conference in Bethune-Cookman and N.C. Central. 

Defensive Line 

N.C. A&T was taken by surprise when Darryl Johnson, Jr., decided to enter the NFL Draft following his junior season. It was an outstanding junior season that saw Johnson earn MEAC defensive player of the year honors becoming the first Aggie to win the honor in 22 years. Johnson's loss was magnified by the loss of two other starters on the defensive line in Julian McKnight (two-time all-conference) and Sam Blue (6-1, 242, Raleigh, N.C.)

Talent and depth will help the Aggies make up for those losses. Justin Cates is the lone returning starter on the defensive line. He is a tenacious pass rusher from his defensive tackle position and is coming off an all-conference season. Backing him up is veteran Kadarius Kendrick (6-4, 309, RSR, Forest Park, Ga.). He missed last season to focus on academics but during the Aggies 2017 12-0 season, Kendrick contributed with 13 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. Justin Cates, A&T Defensive Lineman

At the other interior defensive line position, nose guard, another veteran backup will get a chance to start in Jermaine Williams (6-1, 270, RSR, Lumberton, N.C.). Williams starts the season with 40 tackles and 10 tackles for loss in his career. His time was cut short last season because of injury, but he appears healthy heading into the 2019 season. Presbyterian transfer Michael Branch (6-0, 322, SR, Pleasant Garden, N.C.) will return for his second season with N.C. A&T and will look to also earn playing time at the nose guard position. 

Devin Harrell (6-2, 235, RSO, Gastonia, N.C.), a 2017 signee for the Aggies, is now ready to step in and start at the left defensive end position. He will do battle with true freshman Kyle Stanback (6-6, 260, FR, Newbury Park, Calif.) for playing time at the position. N.C. A&T beat out a few Pac-12 to earn Stanback's services. On the other side of the defensive line is veteran Tre Smalls (6-0, 250, SR, Charleston, S.C.). 

Smalls, a former linebacker for the Aggies, moved to the interior defensive line last season. He has the quickness and instincts to be a good defensive end for the Aggies. Shomari Wallace (6-2, 251, JR, Hope Mills, N.C.), who has earned playing time over the past two seasons, comes into camp as Smalls' backup. 

Offensive Line

N.C. A&T has become accustomed to having a standout offensive lineman. For three straight seasons (2015-17) current starting right tackle for the Oakland Raiders, Brandon Parker, earned MEAC offensive lineman of the year. Last season, Micah Shaw claimed the award from the league. This season Marcus Pettiford is a lead candidate to claim the honor for the Aggies for a fifth straight season. 

Pettiford is a two-time first-team All-MEAC selection earning the honor as a right tackle his sophomore season before earning the honor as a left tackle his junior season. Deven Milton (6-4, 295, RJR, Greensboro, N.C.), who played 22 snaps last season, will serve as Pettiford's backup. 

Eastern Kentucky transfer De'jour Simpson (6-3, 290, RJR, Charlotte, N.C.) sat out last season but should step in to be the Aggies starting left guard this season. Simpson played in 21 games for EKU and started six of them. Tim Williams (6-3, 290, RFR, Laurinburg, N.C.), who played only six snaps last season, will challenge Simpson for playing time at left guard. 

Center Dacquari Wilson (6-2, 280, RSO, Greensboro, N.C.) is someone the Aggie coaches have raved about since they signed him out of nearby Greensboro Dudley High School in 2017. Despite playing behind veteran center Malik Johnson (6-2, 307, Arden, N.C.), Wilson still played 323 snaps last season. The Aggies are now ready to unleash him on the conference on a full-time basis as the starting center. Newcomer Cesar Minarro (6-3, 283, FR, Charlotte, N.C.) will be groomed as the backup center. Donate Keys

There is not a lot of experience at the right guard position. Lawrence Lagrone (6-2, 356, SO, Douglasville, Ga.) and Rio Claytor (6-4, 275, RFR, Mililani, Hawaii) will do battle for the starting right guard position in camp in August. Lagrone only played 13 snaps last season while Claytor is transferring in from junior college. 

There is not an experience problem at right tackle. Dontae Keys (6-4, 300, RJR, Fayetteville, N.C.) returns as the Aggies starter there. Injuries prevented him from playing three games, but he still graded out at 72 percent last season. Bilal Ali (6-3, 255, RJR, Philadelphia, Pa.) will come into the season as the backup. Ali earned some playing time last season after injuries hit the Aggies offensive line. 

Linebackers

Strongside linebacker might be the strongest position on the team. The University of South Carolina transfer Antoine Wilder returns for his second season in an Aggies uniform. Wilder led the Aggies in tackles last season with 67 and was a second-team All-MEAC selection. His backup is a 2018 recruit the Aggies liked so much they played as a true freshman in Joseph Stuckey (5-11, 206, SO, Hillside, N.J.). Stuckey led the Aggies in special teams tackles last season. 

N.C. A&T will have to replace two-year starter Kiaundric Richardson at middle linebacker. Kyin Howard (6-0, 243, RSO, Greensboro, N.C.) is the perfect candidate to do it. He earned significant playing time in 2018 posting 29 tackles and 4.0 tackles for loss. KeAndre Jones( 6-0, 252, RFR, Columbia, S.C.) will battle Howard for playing time at the middle linebacker spot. 

At weakside linebacker, junior college transfer Alex Fumbah (6-0, 226, JR, Snellville, Ga.) will try to replace three-year starter, Deion Jones. Fumbah brings immediate experience to a position that is accustomed to having it. Elijah Westbrook (5-9, 205, RSR, Charlotte, N.C.), a player who has excelled on special teams since arriving in Aggieland, will come into the season No. 2 on the depth chart at weakside linebacker. 

Richie Kittles(5-10, 204, RSR, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) was named Celebration Bowl defensive MVP last season. His veteran presence and leadership should keep the Aggies tradition of being one of the best defensive teams in FCS play. Will Jones (6-1, 205, RSO, Wake Forest, N.C.), who served as a stellar special teams player last season, comes into the season as the No. 2 rover.  

Quarterbacks

For the first time since 2015, Lamar Raynard will not man the quarterback position for N.C. A&T. Raynard is an all-time great at the quarterback position toppling numerous school records during his career. Fortunately for the Aggies, they will replace him with someone who has perhaps been one of the better backup QB's in the MEAC over the past few seasons in Kylil Carter (5-10, 229, GR, Austell, Ga.)

Despite Raynard's greatness, Carter has produced some of the greatest moments during the Aggies current championship run including a game-winning TD pass at S.C. State in 2015 and his stellar performance in the Aggies upset win over East Carolina last season. Carter, in his fifth season with the program and the offense, knows the system better than any other quarterback on the roster. He comes into the season after recovering from a severe car accident last December. Now that he is healthy, his ability to run should enhance what the Aggies do on offense.

Jalen Fowler (6-2, 231, RSO, Inman, S.C.) enters the season as the backup. Fowler's only time on the field as an Aggie came last season at Delaware State. He entered late in the game with the game pretty much decided. He will battle ECU transfer Kingsley Ifedi (6-1, 213, RSO, Charlotte, N.C.) for the No. 2 spot. Ifedi played in the N.C.A&T-ECU game last season for ECU and fell in love with the Aggies team chemistry. The speedy quarterback will now try to make a new for himself as an Aggie. 

Running Backs

Running Back U is real. The Aggies had to say goodbye to another legend after last season as Marquell Cartwright finished his time in the Aggies backfield where he amassed 2,794 rushing yards to finish fourth all-time. 

It is Jah-Maine Martin's turn to run in the footsteps of Tarik Cohen, J.D. Smith and Maurice Hicks. Martin already got a head start on his legacy last season by rushing for 656 yards and a team-leading seven touchdowns on 98 carries for a team-leading 6.7 yards per carry. Martin earned third-team All-MEAC honors for his efforts. 

N.C. A&T has a long line of running backs who could serve as Martin's backup. Cameron Hutchinson (5-11, 210, FR, Havelock, N.C.) could step in and make an immediate impact for the Aggies. The coaching staff believes he is that talented. UNC transfer Darius Graves (5-7, 206, RJR, Greensboro) will also try to pick up a few carries this season after starring at nearby Greensboro Dudley High School. 

Kashon Baker (5-6, 165, SR, Farmville, N.C.) also returns after carrying the eight times for 44 yards and two touchdowns last season. 

William Simpson (5-11, 289, RSR, Elizabeth City, N.C.) will start at fullback after the graduation of four-year starter William Hollingsworth. Former defensive lineman Justin Nwachukwu (5-11, 258, SR, Raleigh, N.C.) will be the backup.

Secondary

Any conversation about the Aggies secondary starts with their All-American cornerback Frank "Mac" McCain III. He will enter the season coming off a knee injury that ended his 2018 season eight games in. Before he stepped off the field, McCain was instrumental in the Aggies upsetting ECU by returning an interception 100 yards for a touchdown. 

McCain's backup is very good too. Derrek Williams II (5-10, 186, RJR, Winston-Salem, N.C.) earned more playing time with McCain's injury last season. He was already a solid special teams player. He should be instrumental for the Aggies on passing downs. McCain does come into the season without his fellow All-MEAC corner on the other side in Timadre AbramJalon Bethea, A&T Free Safety

His replacement was McCain's replacement last year in Amir McNeil (5-9, 167, RSO, Laurinburg, N.C.). McNeil had an excellent spring season and his speed should be beneficial against a MEAC conference that is loaded with great receivers. Chris Moseley (5-10, 170, RSR, McLeansville, N.C.) will come into the 2019 August camp as the No. 2 corner on the depth chart. 

Penn State transfer Jabari Butler (5-11, 181, RSR, Potomac, Md.) will also figure into the Aggies plans at cornerback in 2019.

Two Durham natives and Hillside High School graduates will compete for the starting free safety position. Najee Reams (6-1, 190, RJR, Durham, N.C.) and Jalon Bethea (5-10, 162, RSR, Durham, N.C.) have both been hampered by injuries, but when they are on the field they are effective. Reams is the former track and field athlete at N.C. A&T. He won a MEAC championship with the Aggies 4x400-meter relay team in 2017 and competed in the NCAA championships at the University of Oregon. 

Bethea has earned a wealth of playing time at N.C. A&T. He has played in the big games for the Aggies over the past three years, so the moment is not too big for him. He has 43 career tackles and last season he blocked three kicks to rank fourth in the nation. 

 Wide Receiver/Tight Ends 

The Aggies have an assortment of riches at this position. It starts with Elijah Bell who has a chance to break many of the Aggies receiving records this season. Bell needs only 177 yards to become the Aggies all-time leading receiver. He needs 26 receptions to become the all-time leader in catches. The next touchdown Bell catches will make him the Aggies all-time leader in touchdown receptions. He tied the record last season when he caught a TD pass in the Celebration Bowl. Bell has had a marvelous career earning MEAC rookie of the year honors in 2016.

His backup at X receiver will be Jordan McDaniel (6-0, 185, RSO, Charleston, S.C.). McDaniel runs great routes and has excellent hands. McDaniel has shown a tremendous amount of promise in the Aggies last two spring games. 

Bell was not the Aggies leading receiver last season. That distinction belongs to Zachary Leslie. Leslie had a breakout season in 2018. He led the Aggies in receiving yards (676), receptions (50) and touchdown receptions (9). Leslie was 26th in the nation in touchdown receptions. Zachary Leslie, A&T wide receiver

Elon graduate transfer Tereak McCray (5-10, 188, GR, Burlington, N.C.) will step in as Leslie's backup at Y receiver. McCray had trouble with injuries during his time with the Phoenix, but his 2015 season saw him make 29 receptions for 304 yards and three touchdowns. 

With the graduation of Malik Wilson, the Aggies will have a new starter at slot receiver. The Aggies will have a nice replacement in the University of South Carolina transfer Korey Banks (5-11, 185, JR, Tyrone, Ga.). Banks has 4.44 speed in the 40-yard dash and will be a real headache for defenses trying to cover him with a safety. 

Savannah State transfer Jamichael Baldwin (5-8, 158, RJR, Conyers, Ga.) will also compete for catches out of the slot. Baldwin caught 14 passes for 191 yards in two seasons with the Tigers. Wizdom Vaughn (5-10, 159, RFR, Wilmington, N.C.), another speedy receiver who will be difficult to tackle in the open field, will come into the season also looking to challenge Baldwin and Banks. 

Ron Hunt (6-1, 173, SR, Greensboro, N.C.) completes the trifecta of great receivers returning to the Aggies lineup. Combined, Bell, Leslie and Hunt had 1,557 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns on 120 receptions. Hunt had 340 of those yards on 22 receptions. Hunt's strength and height as a receiver make him difficult cover in the open field. 

Rutgers transfer Ahmed Bah (6-4, 183, RJR, Brooklyn, N.Y.) is built like Hunt with his height and imposing size. Bah will enter his third season in the Aggies offense, so familiarity will be key for him too. 

Quinzel Lockhart (6-1, 205, RSO, Havelock, N.C.) will come into the season as the Aggies starter after starting there last season. The Naval Academy transfer made five receptions last season. Jarvis Reid (6-3, 261, SR, Albany, Ga.) will serve as the backup. He is an excellent blocker. 

Special Teams 

Kickoff Malik Wilson was a major weapon last season for the Aggies. He returned four kickoffs for touchdowns and they all seemed timely. His return against No. 6 Jacksonville State came when the Gamecocks were gaining momentum against the Aggies. The same could be said for his return against Alcorn State in the Celebration Bowl. 

Who will provide that timeliness for the Aggies this season is the question? There several players who can return kicks for the Aggies this season. Korey Banks seems to be at the head of the list with his burst of speed off key blocks. JaMichael Baldwin has tons of experience returning kicks at Savannah State. He returned 54 kickoffs for an average of 20.4 yards per kickoff return. 

Both Banks and Baldwin can also return punts along with Wizdom VaughnChance Pride (5-6, 166, RFR, Taylors, S.C.) and Israel Spivey (5-7, 167, RFR, Ellenwood, Ga.). Noel Ruiz, A&T placekicker

Noel Ruiz(5-11, 187, JR, Wilson, N.C.) will return for his third season as the Aggies placekicker on kickoffs, extra points and field goals. Ruiz is 14-for-24 (.583) in field goal kicks and 92-for-103 (.893) in extra points. Ruiz has 134 career points. Last season, he shared the kickoff duties Davis Rogers(5-10, 174, RSO, Spartanburg, S.C.). Ruiz averaged 55.8 yards per kickoff last season while Rogers averaged 58.1 yards per kickoff. 

Michael Rivers (6-0, 170, SO, Wilmington, N.C.), who can also placekick, will be the Aggies punter after a terrific freshman season where he averaged 39.4 yards per punt. James Mackey (5-10, 186, RSR, North Charleston, S.C.), who was the Aggies primary punter two years ago, will return for his senior season as the backup. 

John Davis (6-0, 205, JR, Elgin, Ill.) will return for his third season as the Aggies long snapper. Veteran long snapper Ernest "Petie" Bush (6-1, 228, RSR, Richmond, Va.)  will the backup along with being the Aggies primary holder on field goals and extra points. Kylil Carter may also handle some of the holding responsibilities.