It’s ten days into the first spring practice for new NC A&T head football coach Vincent Brown.
Through an intermittent downfall Saturday, Brown put the team through its second scrimmage with a full compliment of officials on hand. The scrimmage comes a week before the team stages its first spring game under Brown on Saturday, April 1.
“It was much better,” Brown said of his team’s second time going against each other. “There were a lot more improvements, especially offensively. We had a couple of big plays. Defensively, we’ve got some work to do. We gave up an explosive pass play, had a couple of penalties and gave up a touchdown at the end in a critical situation.
“But our guys are getting way more comfortable with what we’re doing on both sides of the ball. We’re laying our foundation on the things we need to be able to do during the course of the season. We’re moving the needle in the right direction.”
A lot to see in the scrimmage
The smattering of fans at NC A&T’s Truist Stadium was treated to a scintillating 75-yard touchdown run up the right side by 6-2, 235-pound redshirt sophomore running back Charlie Dixon. Sophomore Eli Brickhandler and redshirt sophomore Zach Yeager, both coming off injuries that cut short their 2022 seasons, split the quarterback chores. Both displayed crisp passing and quick decisions with the ball.
Most conspicuous was the small numbers suited up for the scrimmage. Somewhere in the neighborhood of only 60 players were in uniform. Spring rosters usually hover around 100.
“We have some kids that are out for various reasons,” Brown explained. “We’ve made it a priority that academics are critically important. So, if you’re not doing the things you need to do in the classroom you’re not going to practice or play. There’s some of that.
“And we’ve got some kids who are injured and not able to participate. So we fully expect when everyone is healthy from their surgeries and injuries we’ll have a full compliment of players.”
Brown said his staff is also still looking to sign more players, particularly when the transfer portal opens from April 15 to April 30.
“We’re doing our due diligence and evaluating players, bringing some kids in on official visits and trying to help supplement what we have on our roster,” Brown said.
The Vincent Brown resume
Brown is in his first head coaching job at NC A&T after spending 22 years as a top assistant. The former Mississippi Valley State linebacker and nine-year NFL standout with the New England Patriots brings a wealth of experience and success to his new position.
“It’s great,” Brown said. “There’s been a lot of things off the field, non-coaching related, that I’ve had to learn to adapt and adjust to, but practice is practice, meetings are meetings. We’re here doing our very best to try to develop the kids, grow our culture into what it is to be a championship-style team.”
Brown had a stint in the NFL coaching inside linebackers with the Dallas Cowboys. He coached the linebackers for head coach Mike London at Richmond in 2008 when the Spiders won the FCS national title in 2008. Brown stayed with London for four years leading the linebackers, special teams and defensive line at the FBS level in the ACC at the University of Virginia.
He spent another three years in the FBS at Connecticut before rejoining London at Howard in the 2017 and 2018 seasons. He moved with London to William & Mary as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator over the last four seasons.
Vincent Brown at William & Mary
Last year, Brown helped lead William & Mary to an 11-2 overall record and a tie for first place with New Hampshire in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) at 7-1. The Tribe was one of five CAA teams to make the FCS playoffs.
They entered the FCS championship tournament seeded fifth and received a first-round bye. The Tribe beat Big South champion Gardner-Webb 54-14 in the first round before losing to Montana State 55-7 in the national quarterfinals. They finished eighth in the final FCS rankings.
All that experience should come in handy for Brown.
NC A&T competed in the Big South last season (finishing behind Gardner-Webb). The Aggies will move to the CAA this season.
A tough task ahead
The CAA is one of the toughest FCS conferences in the country. No one knows that better than Brown.
“We actually talked about that this morning,” Brown said. “We understand the challenges and the opportunities here. But it’s all about being fundamentally sound and eliminating the things that cause you to lose games.
“If you do those things, and you get good quarterback play, you have a chance to win every single game.”
Brown said he saw some good things from Brickhandler and Yeager’s play and things that they need to improve upon.
“Again, this is all new,” Brown said, “a new offense for them. So, I think they’re in the developmental phase of learning what we need to be able to do to win football games.”
Looking forward to the spring game
Five more practices will culminate with Saturday’s spring game.
“The spring game really should be a culmination of all the things that we’ve tried to implement from a fundamental standpoint, from a technique standpoint,” Brown said. “And just really see how much of what we’ve installed our kids are able to retain and take into a game-like situation.
“I feel confident that we have the talent. We’re just focusing on eliminating those things that cause you to lose games.”