Among the more than 21,500 fans that packed NC A&T’s Truist Stadium Saturday for the Aggies GHOE (Greatest Homecoming on Earth) were three stars from their glorious gridiron past.
Two are arguably the greatest running backs in Aggie history – Maurice Hicks and Tarik Cohen. Both toiled for the Aggies during their 50-year history in the MEAC. Another is a legendary figure that goes back to the early 1960s when A&T played in the CIAA.
They watched perhaps the school’s next great running back, sophomore Bhayshul Tuten, Saturday. The 5-10, 190-pound dynamo rushed for 256 yards on 30 carries and scored on 70- and 42-yard runs Saturday as A&T pulled out a 45-38 win over Campbell at GHOE.
If you’re not familiar with former Aggie and pro football player, Cornell Gordon, you’re probably under 65 years old.
The name you’re more likely to know from Gordon’s playing time is “Broadway” Joe Namath. Namath is the former Alabama quarterback taken first overall in the 1965 AFL Draft by the New York Jets. In Super Bowl III in 1969, Namath led the AFL champion Jets to a 16-7 win over the NFL champion Baltimore Colts. It was the first victory for an AFL team over its NFL counterparts in the championship game and sped up the merger of the two leagues.
The win also became legendary because Namath guaranteed the win. Enough on Namath.
Cornell Gordon at GHOE
Gordon, 81, played quarterback and defensive back at NC A&T for legendary Aggies coach Bert Piggott from 1960 to 1964. The Jets took Gordon in the 16th round of the 1965 draft. He played cornerback for the Jets from 1965 to 1969. He also played three years (1970-72) for the Denver Broncos.
The Norfolk, Va. native and Booker T. Washington High School graduate was one of five HBCU players on that Super Bowl-winning Jets team. The others were OT Winston Hill (Texas Southern), DBs Johnny Sample and Earl Christy and RB Emerson Boozer. The latter three all came out of Maryland State (now Maryland-Eastern Shore). Hill was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020.
“I started 11 ballgames during the Super Bowl year,” Gordon said as he sat with his wife in the tailgate area. “I played in every game besides the Super Bowl.
“(Johnny) Sample had gotten hurt and I had to play three positions that season,” Gordon said. “I had to play corner, free safety and strong safety.” Gordon now lives in the Tidewater Virginia area.
Tarik Cohen at GHOE
The 5-6, 175-pound back is on the mend after suffering ACL and MCL tears and a tibial plateau fracture in the 2020 season for the Chicago Bears. The injury happened on September 20, 2020, less than a week after the fourth-year veteran signed a three-year, $17.25 million contract extension with the Bears.
Cohen was placed on the reserve/physically unable to perform list to start the 2021 season. He missed the entire 2021 season while recovering from the injury. The Bears released Cohen on March 16, 2022
He said Saturday that he is still recovering from those injuries and hopes to be ready for the start of the 2023 NFL season.
Cohen at NC A&T
Tarik, a native of Bunn, N.C., rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of his four years (2013-16) playing for the Aggies and head coach Rod Broadway. He finished his career with 5,619 yards breaking the league record of 4,672 yards set by South Carolina State’s Wil Ford (2006-09). During his career, Cohen became the first player in MEAC history to win three straight offensive player of the year awards.
In his junior year, he rushed for a career-high 295 yards and three touchdowns in earning the MVP award in the first Celebration Bowl in Atlanta. He posted 28 100-yard games in his career and eight with over 200 yards.
The 5-6, 180-pounder was drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 draft by the Bears. He was first team all-pro as a return man in 2018 and was also named to the Pro Bowl. Primarily as a back-up, he rushed for over 1,000 yards in his four years in the NFL with five rushing touchdowns, three TDs on receptions and one score on a punt return.
Maurice Hicks at GHOE
Also on the sidelines before the game vs. Campbell was another former outstanding NC A&T running back, Maurice Hicks.
Hicks, out of Emporia, Virginia, finished his two years (2000 and 2001) with a total of 2,812 rushing yards, then a school record. That total is almost exactly half of Cohen’s four-year total. Hicks reached that number in just 19 games (146.2 yards per game).
Hicks, who played for head coach Bill Hayes, has the largest single-game rushing record in FCS history with 437 yards (and four TDs, 79, 9, 9, 52) in a loss to Morgan State on Oct. 6, 2001. He reached the total in just 34 carries (12.8 yards per carry). Hicks topped 100 yards in 12 of the 19 games (.631) in which he played. He had five games of over 200 yards, two games that he topped 300 yards and one game over 400 yards.
Hicks signed as a free agent in 2003 and spent seven years in the NFL with three teams.