The first five entries of the top-10 moments in Aggie Athletics in 2017 were certainly great moments in the department’s history, but the top-5 will prove to be monumental. Today, we examine 3-5 which includes TV, track and Tarik.
No. 5: The Aggies go live on ABC
A year ago, in the Aggies 39-10 loss to Richmond in the first round of the Football Championship Subdivision NCAA playoffs, there was a little fire missing from N.C. A&T. A week earlier the Aggies had lost their opportunity to go to the Celebration Bowl because they were defeated by arch-rival North Carolina Central. Fast forward quickly to 2017 and the Aggies were lit to the extreme after earning a bid to the Celebration Bowl by going 8-0 in the MEAC including a win over NCCU.
For Aggie nation that means seeing the N.C. A&T brand, the A and the T interlocking together, on a national stage. That’s huge. After the Aggies completed their 11-0 regular-season, there were hypothetical questions asked to Aggie players about whether they would rather test their 11-0 status against some of the other top teams in the FCS in a playoff format or head to the Celebration Bowl and test it against Grambling State, the No. 12 team in the nation, in one-game format. The answer was Celebration Bowl every time.
There is good reason. Not only do the players get the bowl-game experience – dinners, banquets, seminars, tours, community outreach events – they also get to play on live network television. A&T’s game against Richmond aired live on ESPN’s streaming network, ESPN3. The Celebration Bowl aired live on ABC. Reports are that viewership during the game peaked at 2.3 million viewers. Those are not great numbers for Alabama or Clemson, but N.C. A&T and Grambling State will take those numbers with that many eyes seeing their respective products.
The opportunity for North Carolina A&T State University, a school whose enrollment continues to rise every year, to heighten its profile on live network television for the second time in three years, is a top-5 moment.
No. 4: Outdoor track furthers what indoor track started
Speaking of national notoriety, N.C. A&T’s men’s and women’s outdoor track and field programs received some of their own. Both teams came into the conference outdoor track and field championships as enormous favorites, and they did not disappoint.
The men scored a whopping 178 points. Not only did they outpace the second-place team, Bethune-Cookman, by 62.5 points, they also had more points than the third and fourth place teams (Norfolk State, 97 and Hampton, 80) had combined. The women had a little tougher time, but still posted 155 points to outscore the Hampton Pirates by 31 points. The Aggies became the first MEAC school in 14 years to secure all four of the conference’s track and field titles.
What gets the outdoor programs a higher ranking than the indoor programs is what happened after the conference championships. Director of track and field programs Duane Ross made it clear he was not pleased with the Aggies efforts at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships. He also made it clear after the Aggies wrapped up the MEAC outdoor championships that the Aggies weren’t finished making their mark on the track world.
“My goal is to turn the NCAA championships upside down on its head,” Ross said after the MEAC outdoor championships. “If we can crack the top-10, we can really start changing things. If we can get into that top-10, I think it will put a magnifying glass on not only our program but the conference.”
The Aggies didn’t quite make the top-10 at NCAA nationals, finishing 14th, but the magnifying class was certainly present.
A N.C. A&T school-record 20 athletes (men and women) qualified for the NCAA East Preliminary Round in Lexington, Ky. That translated into a school-record 13 athletes reaching NCAA nationals. That translated to Chris Belcher taking home first-team All-American honors in the 100 and 200 meters as well as the 4x100 relay. Belcher’s 4x1 teammates and fellow first-team All-Americans were Jaylen Mitchell, Rodney Rowe and Caleb Gabriel. Kayla White earned two second-team All-American distinctions in the 4x1 along with India Brown, Taliyah Townsend and Tori Ray and the 100-meter hurdles.
No. 3: Tarik’s rookie season in the NFL
As Aggies and as readers of social media, we all know there were a few remaining haters out there who thought all the attention N.C. A&T’s Tarik Cohen received during his collegiate career was overkill for a 5-foot-6 running back out of HBCU A&T. Surely, when he gets to the NFL he will be exposed.
Well, not quite. Cohen exposed the fact that some of the same things he did on the collegiate level, he can do on the NFL level. The highlights coming out of Chicago are like the ones that came out of Greensboro for four years. In his rookie season, Cohen has scored a touchdown on a running play, pass play, kick return (kick or punt) and has even thrown a touchdown pass (He threw two TD passes at A&T). The 22-year-old is the first rookie to score in this variety of ways since Hall of Famer (and former Bear) Gale Sayers did so in 1965. Recently, Cohen was also named a Pro Bowl alternate as a punt returner.
With much anticipation from Aggies everywhere during Week 1 of the NFL season, as always, Cohen did not disappoint. Not only did he post 113 all-purpose yards on 13 touches, he also scored on a 19-yard touchdown reception from Mike Glennon. Later that night Dan Patrick summed up why Cohen is always welcomed on an A&T countdown: “Mike Glennon to Tarik Cohen out of the backfield … and Tarik Cohen, the pride and joy of North Carolina A&T, scores the touchdown.”
He is Dan. He certainly is.