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Aggie Pride Is Back, But Will It Win The MEAC?

Running back Ricky Lewis will attempt to fill the void left by Mike Mayhew’s departure. (NC A&T photo)

Conference: MEAC
Coach: Rod Broadway
2012 Record: 7-4
2013 Non-Conference Opponents: App State, Elon, Virginia University of Lynchburg
2013 Classics: Atlanta Classic (vs. SC State 10/05/2013

Dominique Drake should be a big part of the A&T rushing attack in 2013. (A&T Register photo)

Offense:

Quarterbacks: 
Looking at the quarterback statistics from 2012, it’s amazing that A&T was able to come up with it’s best season in nearly a decade. A&T quarterbacks were bad even by MEAC standards, which aren’t the highest in the FCS. Lewis Kindle served as the starter for most of the season, but took more points off the board (11 interceptions) than he put on them. Kwashaun Quick started a few games as a freshman, including the season opener, and was thought to have a chance at unseating Kindle. His chances for starting looked even better after Kindle was arrested for DWI in July. Kindle was suspended from the team for over a month before being reinstated shortly after the start of camp. He will have to serve a one-game suspension against App State. Quick will start in his place.

The big changing of the guard in the A&T offense will come via the backfield. The Aggies will be without their all-time leading rusher Mike Mayhew, who wrapped up his college career last season. Look for senior Ricky Lewis to step in to fill some of the void left by Mayhew’s departure. Lewis is a do it all back, who rushed for a career-high 437 yards and six touchdowns in 2012, and is a threat catching and throwing the ball as well. Lewis will have help from Dominique Drake, who actually beat out Mayhew for the starting job last year before an ACL injury ended his season.

Needless to say, last year’s passing game left a lot to be desired. Sophomore Darren Bullock is the Aggies leading receiver with 20 catches and one touchdown. Outside of Bullock, none of the returning receivers caught more than 10 passes. A&T does have several newcomers, headlined by former NC State signee Xavier Griffin. Also keep an eye out for speedster Desmond Lawrence.

The Aggies have a veteran line, anchored by center Ronald Canty and left tackle William Ray Robinson III. This unit could be the strength of the A&T offense.

All-American D’Vonte Graham leads a talented NC A&T defense. (NC A&T photo)

Defense

It’s no secret that defense was the calling card of the 2012 team. The Aggies led the MEAC in total defense, holding opponents to just 252 yards per game. They were spectacular against the run, holding opponents under three yards per rush and just 1,015 yards for the season.

Much of the defensive line that dominated last year, however, is gone. Senior Tyree Hearn is the only returning starter from that group. He will have to step up big for a unit that could use up to five freshmen in its rotation.

Things look much more solid at linebacker as seniors D’Vonte Grant and Tony Clodfelter return to lead a group deep in both numbers and talent. Grant is equally adept at run defense, leading the team with 88 tackles last season, and pass defense, as he picked off four passes in 2012. Not bad for a former walk-on.

Without question, the strength of the A&T defense is its secondary. Cornerback D’Vonte Graham had a big season last year after sitting out 2011 for personal reasons. The 5’7, 165 pound defensive back picked off four passes and broke up eight others, picking up All-MEAC honors. He heads into 2013 as an All-American punt returner (Sports Network) and cornerback (Box To Row). Another impact defender will be safety Travis Crosby. The senior finished second on the team with 87 tackles, nine of which came behind the line of scrimmage. The Aggies will also look for Ayodeji Olatoye(3 INTs) to make plays at both corner and safety, if need be.

Outlook

A&T has to feel like it has a plausible shot at an MEAC title, which it last won in 2003. After two tough non-conference games, it will face off against a Howard team missing its head coach, an SC State coming off its worst season in a decade, and a Hampton team that is also trying to pick up the pieces. A stretch to keep an eye on is in late October when A&T faces a tough defensive squad in Delaware State and a FAMU team that could be much improved under Earl Holmes. Perhaps the biggest game for A&T is one that’s not on the schedule, as it does not meet defending MEAC champion Bethune-Cookman this season.

With that said, there are some questions, mostly on the offensive side of the ball. Simply put, the offense has to help the defense out way more in 2013 for A&T to make a championship run. It starts with quarterback play. All the champions in HBCU football (Bethune-Cookman, UAPB, Winston-Salem State, Tuskegee) had good-to-great quarterback play. No honest observer could say the same about last season’s A&T team.

Coming off a 7-4 season, the cries of “Aggie Pride” seem a little more heartfelt than in years past. After nearly a decade of being mediocre or just plan bad, A&T’s 2012 performance put everyone on notice that they are once again a team to be reckoned with. If it can get more consistent production out of its passing game, A&T looks to be the team most capable of snatching the MEAC from Bethune-Cookman’s hands.

Prediction: 8-3, MEAC Runner-Up

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