2014 Has Now Officially BegunBy Craig R. Turner
Published: August 10, 2014
If you’re like me the New Year really didn’t begin back January 1 but it officially starts every Labor Day weekend. Spring practice wets the appetite but it is September that really gets the juices flowing for football fans.
The first impression of most unknowing fans is formed from what they hear on a quick news clip on television or radio or some snippet they may read in a newspaper or on-line. If that is the case then the best way to gather information on your favorite football team is to follow the coach. The center spot light for A&T is on a guy who doesn’t crave headlines or very seldom puts the spotlight on himself unless there a loss and this is one college coach who hates to lose.
Rod Broadway has always been conservative in past seasons when he spoke of his first three A&T football teams, pointing out A&T was undermanned and over matched in certain areas, the need to always improve, minimize mistakes, always lowering the fan expectations and who could blame him for doing so. Some might call it coach speak. What he does do is speak frankly and honestly about the reality of what is the A&T football program.
A&T was saddled with just 29 players available that received some type of athletic money, massive APR problems and looming three years of NCAA probation, the accumulative loss of nearly two days practice time each week, no spring ball, eligibility woes, academic risks, player dissatisfaction and attrition, and a whole other laundry list of other infrastructure problems.
Therefore, when Broadway and his staff came to Greensboro in 2011 after banner seasons at Grambling, they were dumbfounded to find that instead of a rebuilding job it was actually equivalent to starting the entire program from scratch. When asked about what his impressions from his prospective, Broadway was both reflective and honest. “It was a mess. People have no idea just how bad it was when we got here. We knew there were problems but nothing as bad as what we found once we got here. To do it all over again, if we had known it was this bad, I might have to sit down and say think about this,” he said.
The results from year were indeed remarkable for a team that was just 1-11 the year before, managed to go 5-6 that year including a stunning one-sided upset over conference kingpin Bethune-Cookman and a middle of the pack MEAC finish. Now after two consecutive 7-4 seasons, despite all the restrictions on numbers and practice time, fast forward to 2014 and A&T is looking at potentially one of its better teams in recent memory and the Aggies are expected to have a major impact on the race for the MEAC title and playoff positioning.
“This has been the hardest job I ever had but in the same breath the most fulfilling. I can’t say enough about those kids in those first days who stuck with it, having an administration and athletic director to provide support and work with you to help change the culture to winning both. To see how these kids have grown and matured along with everything else we’ve worked so hard on over these last three years has laid a foundation for us to win now.”
The Aggies are just ten days into fall practice but three things look distinctly different from past years in Greensboro. First A&T has more football players, a lot more. Depth is something that Broadway and his staff concentrated heavily on in recruiting after preparing for the anticipated eventual end of NCAA sanctions at the end of the 2013 season. The Aggies have gone from last fall’s roster of 54 players to an impressive 93 this year.
Second, the physical size of the 2014 team is far greater than it has been since the late 90’s, especially along the offensive and defensive fronts and there is a good amount of experienced depth returning on both sides of ball behind the starters which includes six of the front seven on defense and two All-MEAC performers on offense.
The Aggies will have to replace three starters in the secondary but defensive coordinator and defensive back coach Sam Washington returns his top four reserves, and a pair of promising transfers that should be able to fill those vacancies especially at the safety spots.
Lastly and perhaps the most important new factor ,the skill positions are now filled playmakers with speed and proven talent and for the first time in nearly half a decade there is real competition among a quintet of solid quarterbacks, perhaps the deepest talent pool ever at that single position for A&T. Offensive coordinator Ricky Bustle should be able to open up things up significantly after having had the chance to install and teach his entire offense back in the spring instead of just using the base simplified sets as the Aggies did last year without it.
This time around, Broadway isn’t parceling any words this preseason on what he thinks of his 2014 squad. “We have a chance to be as a very good football. We can be a special football team but we have to stay healthy and just keep working to get better every day in practice and each week we play. Having spring ball has made a tremendous difference and we can see it. We are probably one class away from becoming dominant team but we should be pretty good this year.”
If the most media conservative coach in the MEAC tells everyone he’s going to be good in a preseason presser, I would take him at his word. He hasn’t told us anything that wasn’t true.