NORFOLK, Va. – North Carolina A&T is expected to win their fifth Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) football title in six years and reach their third straight Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl game as announced by the conference Friday at the annual MEAC Football Press Luncheon at the Main Hotel.
The MEAC also revealed their preseason all-conference teams with four Aggies – cornerback Mac McCain III (6-0, 175, RJR, Greensboro, N.C.), defensive tackle Justin Cates (6-2, 257, GR, Goldsboro, N.C.), left tackle Marcus Pettiford (6-4, 286, RSR, Durham, N.C.) and right tackle Dontae Keys (6-4, 300, RJR, Fayetteville, N.C.) – making first team.
Running back Jah-Maine Martin (5-10, 203, RJR, Conway, S.C.), wide receiver Elijah Bell (6-1, 225, SR, Wheeling, WVa.) and linebacker Antoine Wilder (5-10, 199, RSR, Atlanta, Ga.) earned preseason second-team honors. Third team honors went to wide receiver Zachary Leslie (6-3, 203, RJR, Lawndale, N.C.), defensive lineman Jermaine Williams (6-1, 270, RSR, Lumberton, N.C.), linebacker Richie Kittles (5-10, 204, RSR, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) and punter Michael Rivers (6-0, 170, SO, Wilmington, N.C.).
N.C. A&T led head coach Sam Washington in his second season, received 12 of the available 18 first-votes place votes to be considered the preseason favorites to win the conference. Bethune-Cookman (one first-place vote) is expected to finish second followed by Florida A&M (two first-place votes) and Howard.
If the Aggies win the MEAC, it will be their third straight title and their 11th overall. A fifth MEAC title in six years would give the Aggies the most dominant era in the MEAC since S.C. State won five 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).
“We want to be in the top echelon of FCS teams and in order to do that you have to win your league year in and year out,” said Washington, the 2018 MEAC coach of the year. “Winning this league becomes harder and harder every year. There are a lot of good young coaches in this conference with tremendous talent on their teams. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Washington is hoping to lead the Aggies to their third straight HBCU national title and the fourth in five years.
McCain will lead the Aggies in the defensive backfield. McCain is a two-time All-American and a two-time first-team All-MEAC performer. In his first two seasons with the Aggies, McCain has eight interceptions and 16 pass breakups. He is coming off a season-ending knee injury. In 2017, he was the Celebration Bowl defensive MVP.
Cates was a first-team All-MEAC selection at the end of the 2018 season after posting 36 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Cates ranked 13th in the MEAC in sacks and 19th in tackles for loss. Cates has 21.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks in his career.
Pettiford is considered one of the best linemen in FCS football. He recently earned FCS first-team preseason lineup honors from College Football America Yearbook’s. Pettiford is a two-time first-team All-MEAC selection. He played 687 snaps last season with eight knockdown blocks, only six missed assignments, one sack surrendered, and two penalties called against him. He graded out at 79 percent last season.
At the Aggies other tackle position, Keys played 527 snaps and graded out at 72 percent. Keys gave up only two sacks and only had two penalties called against him. As an offense, the Aggies ranked third in total offense, second in scoring offense and first in red zone offense.
N.C. A&T’s season starts 6 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 31 at BB&T Stadium as they take on the Elon Phoenix. Both teams are expected to be nationally-ranked when the season starts.