Sun, Jul 22

GREENSBORO (July 22, 2018) – North Carolina A&T’s quest for a second straight capture of the Big Four starts Monday. The Aggies will hold their first football practice of their 2018 camp 4 p.m., Monday, July 23 at Smith High School’s soccer fields behind Four Seasons Mall.

The Aggies will hold several practices at Smith while N.C. A&T hosts the USATF Hershey National Junior Olympics Track and Field meet at Irwin Belk Track for the week of July 23.

N.C. A&T accomplished four difficult goals in 2017. They finished 12-0 to become the first Division I historically black college or university ever to finish undefeated or untied. The Aggies were also the first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference school to go undefeated. Their undefeated season allowed the Aggies to also secure the school’s third MEAC title in four years, win the Celebration Bowl for the second time in three years and the HBCU national title for the second time in three years.

The quest to collect the Big Four accomplishments again will have to happen despite significant change within the program. After seven years in which he incredibly turned around a dormant program, Rod Broadway walked away from coaching for good on Jan. 8, 2018 when he announced his retirement as the Aggies head coach. In the seven years before his arrival, the Aggies were 15-66. They were also under NCAA penalty with fewer practice hours, no spring practice and reduced scholarships.

In seven seasons, Broadway was 59-22, won three Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championships, two Celebrations Bowls, two HBCU titles, had two players drafted and several others received NFL opportunities. He walked away with the best winning percentage (.728) in school history and he finished with an overall coaching record of 127-45 after spending four seasons apiece at N.C. Central and Grambling State.

Broadway turned the keys to the program over to his longtime assistant Sam Washington, the Aggies defensive coordinator over the previous seven seasons. Washington then saw more changes happen to the program. As expected, three-time MEAC Offensive Lineman of the Year Brandon Parker was selected in the NFL Draft last spring. Parker was the first pick of the third round to the Oakland Raiders.

In June, offensive coordinator Chip Hester accepted the head coaching position at Barton College, a fledgling Division II football program in Wilson, N.C. In each of the three seasons, Hester served as the Aggies offensive coordinator, the Aggies offense averaged better than 30 points and 400 yards of offense per game.

Washington knew coming into the 2018 season, he would have to replace four starters from last season’s dominant offensive line, including Parker. But there are three mainstays Washington can rely on. Their names are Lamar Raynard (6-foot-4, 195, R-SR, QB, High Point, N.C.), Marquell Cartwright (5-8, 203, R-SR, RB, High Point, N.C.) and Elijah Bell (6-1, 222, JR, WR, Wheeling, WVa.) and they all give opposing defenses nightmares.

Raynard, who is 25-0 as the Aggies starting quarterback, is the reigning player of the year in the MEAC. Cartwright, who was tasked with replacing Cohen at running back last season, did it beautifully by racking up 1,190 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns, earning a spot on the all-conference first team, being named Celebration Bowl Offensive MVP and landing on a few All-American teams. Bell was 47 yards shy of 1,000 yards receiving, caught a school-record 11 touchdown passes and he is seven touchdown receptions away from breaking the school’s career mark with two years of eligibility remaining.

In addition to those three stalwarts on offense, the Aggies have eight starters returning on defense including three first-team all-conference selections. That is excellent news considering Washington’s reputation for building stifling e defenses is what helped him earn the head coaching position at N.C. A&T.

“A lot of people would like to have what we have coming back,” said Washington. “Lamar, Bell and Cartwright can play, play. They’re very powerful. It’s a blessing to have them back. Then we have eight starters coming back on defense and others who played a lot as backups.”

The Aggies have been the MEAC’s No. 1 total defense and scoring defense four times in the past seven years. They have had the No. 1 total defense in the conference three straight seasons. N.C. A&T has also had the No. 1 rush defense in the conference six times in seven years. Nationally, the Aggies defense has never ranked lower than 20th under Washington including a No. 4 ranking in 2017. The Aggies had the nation’s best run defense in 2012.

The return of three offensive superstars and a stingy defense could have the Aggies back in contention for another run at going undefeated and winning the MEAC, Celebration Bowl and HBCU national title. The Aggies have an enormous bullseye on their back after a dominating 2017 season where their average margin of victory was 22.7 points. Only Charlotte (35-31), Bethune-Cookman (24-20) and Grambling State (21-14) lost by single digits to the Aggies.

But the 2018 season opens with the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff as the Aggies will take on perennial top-10 FCS program Jacksonville State 6 p.m. EST, Aug. 25 in Montgomery, Ala.  They will then travel to Greenville, N.C., to face FBS school East Carolina before playing their home opener against the Big South’s Gardner-Webb Bulldogs.

N.C. A&T will have an additional non-conference game this season due to Hampton’s departure from the MEAC. Their game against Morgan State on Sept. 22 will be considered a non-conference contest. There will then be a Thursday night affair at home against S.C. State on Sept. 27. That game will be followed by contests at Delaware State (Oct. 6), at home against Florida A&M (Oct. 13), at Bethune-Cookman (Oct. 20), at home against Norfolk State (Nov. 3), at Savannah State (Nov. 10) and at NCCU (Nov. 17).