EAST GREENSBORO – Tap. Tap. Tap. That is the sound Antoine Wilder heard when North Carolina A&T defensive backs coach Thomas Howard visited his home to convince him to transfer and play football at N.C. A&T.
Howard was making the musical chord with the seven rings placed on his various fingers. His message to Wilder was simple. There may be other schools with newer facilities, but you’re going to lose there.
We win here.
Wilder got the message. He transferred from the University of South Carolina to N.C. A&T.
“I chose A&T because they win here,” said Wilder. “They have that winning mentality. Everybody else had a losing mentality or they were complacent. None of us are complacent, not even the fans. They showed up at Duke. I think that was the biggest difference. They have an amazing fan base.
When leaving USC, Wilder initially wanted to attend another Division I-Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) school. When he realized NCAA rules mandate he cannot play the following year, he and his mother decided the best move would be for him to move down and play on the Division I-Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level. That move would allow him to play immediately.
The decision then came down to what FCS school to attend. Wilder had not heard of many of the FCS schools recruiting him including N.C. A&T. He received plenty of calls and visits, but it was the tapping sound that stood out to him the most.
“I was like, ‘Coach, you can stop hitting the table with your rings. I see them,’” Wilder recalled.
Wilder has now added to the Aggies collection of rings. In his first season with the Aggies in 2018, Wilder led the Aggies in tackles with 67. He helped the Aggies win the 2018 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) championship which allowed N.C. A&T go on to win the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl last December.
Last season he made those tackles from the strongside linebacker position. Last week against the Duke Blue Devils, he made a career-high 14 tackles from his new rover position which allows him to play safety and or linebacker depending on the defensive call.
So, while Wilder has helped the Aggies continue to tap, tap, tap along, there will always be one person who will make sure he does not become complacent.
“My mom knows a lot about football. She’s my biggest critic,” said Wilder. “I made 14 tackles and she texted me about one tackle I missed.”
Keys Takes on Leadership Challenge
North Carolina A&T has three new starters on the offensive line in sophomore center Dacquari Wilson, junior left guard De’jour Simpson, a transfer out of Eastern Kentucky and redshirt freshman right guard Lawrence Lagrone. The Aggies other two starters are veterans in perennial all-conference left tackle Marcus Pettiford and preseason All-MEAC selection Dontae Keys.
Those factors have put Pettiford and Keys into leadership positions as the Aggies try to reach the Celebration Bowl for the fourth time in five years with new starters.
N.C. A&T offensive line coach Ron Mattes challenged his two tackles to talk more.
“We’re kind of young right now so my role has changed significantly,” said Keys. “Coach told me before the season started that he wanted me to take a bigger leadership role and be more vocal on the field. I’m trying to be more vocal with play calling and encouragement. I think we’re coming along. I think we’re a lot better than what everybody expected.”
Keys led the way on an impressive 66-yard touchdown run by Jah-Maine Martin against Duke last week. Keys and the rest of the offensive line are also protecting a new starter at quarterback in graduate Kylil Carter.
The Return of the Mac
All-American junior cornerback Mac McCain III will be back in the lineup on Saturday according to N.C. A&T head coach Sam Washington. McCain did not play in the Aggies first two games of the 2019 season as he continued to recover from a season-ending knee injury that caused him to miss the Aggies final four games of 2018.
McCain will likely not start against Charleston Southern on Saturday, but with the Aggies following game being a conference contest, Washington and his staff want to get McCain acclimated to live-action.
Over the first two years of his career, McCain has proved to be one of the best corners on the FCS level. He is a two-time All-American and a two-time first-team All-MEAC selection. He has returned four interceptions for touchdowns in his career including two 100-yard returns. Another return helped the Aggies upset FBS foe Charlotte 35-31 in 2017.
In his career, McCain has eight interceptions for 374 return yards.
FBS Loss Keeps A&T Steady in Polls
N.C. A&T’s loss to Duke did not affect their standing too much in the national polls. The Aggies remained ranked No. 15 in the FCS STATS media poll this week. They did take a dip in the FCS coaches’ poll this week going from No. 14 to No. 17 nationally. The Aggies remained No. 1 in the BoxToRow Black College Football Poll despite the loss to the Blue Devils. The Aggies return to FCS play this week when they head to Charleston, S.C., to face the Charleston Southern Buccaneers 6 p.m., Saturday at Buccaneer Field.