GREENSBORO – Spring football practice or no spring football practice, one thing has always been clear about Rod Broadway-coached teams at A&T. They play good defense.
A&T’s spring practices culminated in the Blue/Gold Spring Game at Aggie Stadium on Saturday. The offense ran 104 plays against the defense. The offense scored three touchdowns and recorded 11 first downs. But it was the Aggies defense that came away with 16 tackles for loss, 14 three-and-outs, seven sacks and two turnovers.
The Spring Game took place in front of an impressive crowd at Aggie Stadium. Part of the crowd included past letter winners from the football who provided the team with a pig picking after the game. Despite some tough weather in March, the Aggies were able to practice 13 times before Saturday.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” said Broadway, who is entering his fourth season as the Aggies head coach. “The last two years we’ve gone out and played with both hands behind our backs because without the spring there is really no chance to teach fundamentals, techniques and schemes. For the first time in a long time, we have a head start on fall practice. We know we can slide guys into certain roles because we’ve been able to identify those roles over the last couple of weeks.”
Rising fifth-year senior D’Vonte Grant knows exactly what role Broadway wants him to play. He has led the Aggies in tackles the past two seasons. He did much of the same on Saturday by making eight tackles and a sack from his weak side linebacker position. Over his career, he has earned the reputation of being the Aggies biggest playmaker on the defensive side with three interception returns for touchdowns. Fellow outside linebacker Marcus Albert had seven tackles and middle linebacker Denzel Jones finished with six. Angelo Keyes had two sacks and a big hit on a two-yard out by receiver Michael Weaver.
“For anyone who has been around here for a few years, they know we always play pretty good defense,” said Broadway. “It’s our belief around here that offense is hot and cold. You can score 40 one week and turnaround and score 10 the next. But if we’re stopping people, we can win those close games where the offense isn’t clicking.”
The Aggies offense has largely relied on the running game over the past two seasons. Nationally, the Aggies have had a top-50 rushing game each of the past two seasons. But the passing offense has ranked 108th and 105th respectively. There were some bright spots for the offense on Saturday.
Rising junior Kwashaun Quick, the Aggies No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart in the spring, completed 11 of 20 passes for 120 yards and a 36-yard touchdown pass to rising sophomore Xavier Griffin. Quick also completed a 37-yarder to rising sophomore Joseph Spann. Quick looked his most dangerous with his feet, however. He had runs of 29, 11 and 10, and he scored on a 6-yard touchdown run. He also escaped several potential sacks. Junior backup Frank Foster was 12-for-20 for 95 yards and a six-yard touchdown to rising fifth-year senior Quentin Todd. Foster completed seven of his first eight passes.
All opponent defenses will have their eyes on rising sophomore and reigning MEAC Rookie of the Year Tarik Cohen. The 5-foot-8 running back carried it seven times for 36 yards.
Weaver led the Aggie receivers with nine receptions for 68 yards. Spann made four receptions for 53 yards.
“We just wanted to go out and have a little fun and be disciplined,” said Grant. “At the same time, these are our teammates so you don’t want anyone to get hurt. As a defense we have to encourage our offense because if they’re successful, the team will be successful.”
Despite not having spring practice the past two seasons, the Aggies are coming off two consecutive 7-4 seasons. Each of Broadway’s three seasons at A&T, the defense has ranked among the best nationally. In 2013 the Aggies had the best rush defense, allowed the second fewest first downs and ranked fourth in scoring defense in FCS.
When asked are the expectations for the 2014 season going to be even higher now that the Aggies have a spring practice, Grant responded: “Absolutely. With no spring ball the last two years, we’ve been a step behind. But now we’ve had spring ball, we’re in step with everybody else. Seven and four won’t cut it this year. We should feel that way, the coaches should feel that way and the community should feel that way.”
INTERCEPTIONS: Tajir Wharton 1-45.
FUMBLES: Angelo Keyes 1-9.
TACKLES (UA-A): D’Vonte Grant 6-2; Marcus Albert 6-1; Denzel Jones 5-1; Zerius Lockart 5-0; Tony McRae 4-0; D’Anthony Ross 4-0; Angelo Keyes 3-2; Jermaine Clark 3-1; Tajir Wharton 3-1; Lorenz Suttles 3-0; Jerome Beatty 3-0; Jeremy Taylor 3-0; Joshua Patrick 2-1; Marquis Ragland 2-1; Dorian Belcher 2-1; Marquis Boyan 2-0; Marquis Willis 2-0; Malik Hampton-Prioleau 1-1; Daniel Pinnix 1-0; Nicholas Dease 1-0; Courtney Edmonds 1-1; Reginald Ward 0-1.