NCCU, North Carolina Central
2023 Football

NC Central looking forward not back at 2022 titles

Coming off 2022 MEAC and black college national championships, NC Central head coach Trei Oliver is talking about how his team can be better in 2023. Spring practice is where that process has begun.

A night after celebrating their 2022 MEAC and Celebration Bowl titles, head coach Trei Oliver put his NC Central football team through its 2023 spring game Saturday afternoon.

The Eagles are coming off a 10-2 season with a 4-1 record in the MEAC that earned them their first league title in six years and first in four seasons under Oliver. They topped it off with a stunning 41-34 upset win in overtime at the bowl game in Atlanta over head coach Deion Sanders’ ballyhooed SWAC champions, Jackson State. 

That victory earned Oliver and the Eagles the unanimous and consensus 2022 black college football national championship. The coach said he’s trying to make sure his team looks forward and not backward.

“That’s my job, and our coaching staff,” Oliver said after Saturday’s spring game. “We have to preach that. We must improve. Though we have a bunch of guys returning, that was a different football team. The 2022 season is different than ’23. So, it’s my responsibility and the coaches responsibility to put that behind us and move forward.”

They are the No. 1 team in HBCU Gameday’s Super Early 2023 MEAC forecast.

The 2022 titles were celebrated at a $100-a plate, black-tie dinner and gala Friday night at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Cary, N. C. The sold-out event included over 440 guests and the entire football team.    

NC Central showcases its playmakers

Oliver returns MEAC Offensive Player of the Year, senior Davius Richard, at quarterback. As well, top returning rushers Latrell Collier and J’Mari Taylor are back. The trio accounted for 408 of the Eagles’ 482 total offensive yards in the Celebration Bowl win. Collier, a 5-10, 200-pound redshirt senior delivered a play to remember in Atlanta, a devastating stiff arm that buried a Jackson State defender in the game-winning touchdown drive.

NCCU quarterback Davius Richard makes a catch
NCCU quarterback Davius Richard makes a catch

Each was showcased in Saturday’s game. Richard was sharp and in full command of the offense. He led the team to a first-quarter field goal. He also led the team on a drive in the final two minutes of the first half that came up empty. The defense, who got points for stops, takeaways and sacks, led 24-10 at the half.

NC Central football: Iron sharpens iron

Richard likes how the team is competing in the spring.

“Everyday we came out here, the defense gave us their best. Our offense gave them their best. It was just a head-on-head collision every time we came out here.” He said he’s looking to improve on his accuracy (64% in 2022) and mobility. Richard passed for 25 touchdowns with ten interceptions and ran for 788 yards and 15 TDs. He led the MEAC in total offense at 287.4 yards per game.

NC Central QB Davius Richard likes what he sees so far with his team.

Veteran back-up QB, junior Walker Harris, threw two TD passes Saturday. He engineered a second-quarter drive that resulted in a 4-yard scoring pass. Harris also connected on a long scoring pass to the shortest man on the field, 5-8, 160-pound wideout Twan Flip Jr. The tiny speedster got behind the defense to haul in a throw of over 40 yards in the third period. 

In other offensive highlights, redshirt sophomore running back Arthur Rogers had a 26-yard run. Rogers, like Collier, is a transfer from West Virginia. Six-four, 180-pound receiver Joaquin Davis hauled in at least a half-dozen catches. The defense prevailed in the game, 39-20.

The 2023 NC Central Eagles

Among other key returnees for the Eagles is senior Adrian Olivo, the league scoring leader and first team all-MEAC placekicker. Olivo, Richard, Collier and Taylor finished 1-2-3-4 in scoring in the MEAC in 2022.  Olivo kicked thru two field goals Saturday. 

Junior center Toricelli Simpkins is also a first-team all-MEAC returnee. Simpkins is nursing an injury and did not play Saturday. Junior wide receiver Devin Smith was a second-team all-MEAC pick. Third-team all-MEAC return man Brandon Codrington also returns.

“Concerns are, we’ve got to get better up front,” Oliver said. The Eagles lost two starting offensive linemen to graduation. “I know we are young. We’ll bring a couple of more offensive linemen onto the team this offseason. So, recruiting doesn’t stop.”

On the defensive side, senior Khalil Baker, a first-team cornerback and FCS first-team all-American, was second in the MEAC with four interceptions. Redshirt junior lineman Jaden Taylor and linebackers Jaki Brevard and Manny Smith were all-MEAC second-teamers.

“I thought defensively, we made a couple of strides and we’re coming along. I like our athleticism and our speed.”

Despite the win for his unit in the spring game, NCCU Defensive coordinator Courtney Coard was not satisfied.

Second-year Defensive Coordinator Courtney Coard.

“We gave up too many explosive plays,” Coard said. “There were too many blown assignments. We pride ourselves on stopping the run and we gave up too many explosive runs. We’re going to grade this film as a staff and come back out here Monday and Tuesday and get this stuff corrected.”

The Eagles have two more practices to complete their allotment of 15 this spring. 

NC Central looking forward not back at 2022 titles
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