Cohen Had A Major Impact On A&T
There is that rare North Carolina A&T student-athlete who is unique. Whether it is Elvin Bethea in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, or Al Attles serving as the longest employed front office executive in NBA history. Even Malveata Johnson's dominance of women's basketball in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference had its own uniqueness to it. Tarik Cohen has joined the club of Aggie uniqueness. He deservedly will be remembered for all 5,619 rushing yards, the touchdowns (59) and each memorable moment he gave us all on the football field. More than any other student-athlete before him, however, Cohen brought Aggie Athletics and the entire N.C. A&T family out of the shadows and into the full brilliance of the athletics' spotlight.
At the same time university's top administrators were looking to define and expand A&T's brand, Cohen became an unexpected and unmatched ambassador in those efforts.
Mr. Cohen, some will argue, came along in an era where access to multiple media outlets is a password or click away. ESPNs, other sports cable channels, smartphones, tablets, social media shares and Wi-Fi are everywhere. Our legends of the past did not have those advantages. Advanced technology is not Cohen's fault, however. Mankind is doing what it always does when it comes to innovation – moving forward. Innovation did what defenses could not do over the past four years. It simple caught up with Mr. Cohen's exceptional talent and the two made quite the power couple.
It started in May of 2015 when Tarik and his teammates decided to take a cell phone and film him doing a backflip while catching a football. Cohen credits friend and teammate D'Anthony Ross for getting the video to all the appropriate social media platforms. It ignited Cohen-mania. The video was all over the internet, so much so in fact, that it caught the eye of ESPN. The giant cable network flew Cohen to their headquarters in Bristol, Conn., for not-the-everyday-run-of-the-mill SportsCenter show. No, it was the three-hour Saturday morning SportsCenter that gave Cohen three different segments on its highly-rated show. Draped in blue and gold, Cohen performed his miraculous feat on cue each time on live television. He never came close to dropping a pass coming out of the backflip and in an instant the country got to see Cohen was no fluke.
In case people forgot, he came back seven months later in the inaugural Celebration Bowl in Atlanta and said hello again to America while wearing blue and gold. The world saw what the Greensboro community had known for three seasons. Tarik Cohen is a bad man! Live on ABC Cohen rushed for more yards – 295 – than the entire Alcorn State team while also putting the ball in the end zone three times. There was even a moment when the game came back from commercial producers cut away to a SportsScience segment where they detailed the science behind Cohen's remarkable football-catching backflips. When the producers returned to live action, Cohen took the next handoff 83 yards for a touchdown, as analyst Jay Walker screamed: “They've got a Tarik Cohen problem, right now!”
Later, ESPN had a Tarik Cohen highlight ready on SportsCenter. ESPN led a highlight segment with Cohen's day in Atlanta complete with a Cohen graphic that showed he had the fifth-best rushing day in FCS postseason history. It was a huge day for N.C. A&T and the historically black college and university family. The foundation of this enormous day was built on the shoulders of a 5-foot-6, 179-pound 20-year old from Bunn, N.C. A young man two years ago whom no one wanted to sign until the folks from Aggies football offered him a scholarship. Now as he entered his senior season, everyone wanted a piece of Tarik, especially the local and national media. The request for Cohen's time ranged from the nationally-acclaimed website The Undefeated to the Greensboro News & Record to the Raleigh News & Observer to the ESPN sports properties.
A school-record seven Aggie football games were televised nationally in 2016, mostly on ESPNU. Once the lights came on in those nationally-televised games, so did Cohen. On ESPN3 Aggies fans witnessed the school's first-ever win over an FBS Division I school when Cohen posted 258 all-purpose yards (133 yards rushing, 125 yards receiving) in a 39-36 quadruple overtime win at Kent State. Two weeks later it was a 256-yard, three-touchdown game at Aggie Stadium against Hampton on ESPNU that put Cohen in the spotlight. With the MEAC all-time rushing record in sight the next week against Norfolk State, the ESPNU cameras came to Aggie Stadium again. Cohen greeted them with 200 yards including a 60-yard TD run to break the conference rushing record. Later that night, SportsCenter noticed Cohen again and placed the record-breaking run on the show.
To show he was not bored with the attention, when ESPNU went to Daytona Beach, Fla., nine days after Cohen shattered the MEAC rushing record, he ran 87 yards for a touchdown, returned a punt for a touchdown (called back because of a penalty) and finished the game with 220 yards. Throughout the season the NFL started taking notice. Numerous NFL scouts started showing up to N.C. A&T games. The season ended with Cohen leading the Aggies to another postseason appearance, an NCAA FCS playoff game at Richmond. Then came discussions of Cohen being taken in the NFL Draft. A NFL Combine invitation followed and so did more national attention when he made national news by running a 4.42 40-yard dash at the combine, the third-fastest time by a running back. Cohen's combine led the NFL Network's Good Morning Football show to use three minutes to highlight Cohen as their draft “wild card.”
No one in recent times has put N.C. A&T in the national mainstream media spotlight more than Tarik Cohen. Four years ago, Cohen perhaps felt he owed N.C. A&T for being the only school who wanted to make his dreams of playing college football come true. Four years later, Cohen has repaid that debt, and then some.
Thank you, Tarik. #AggiePride #AggiesDo #NFLDraft