Ready to Turn the Corner?By Craig Turner
Published: October 4, 2013
Just three years ago, A&T was about a low as a football program could possibly be. Coming off a dreadful 1-11 campaign, barely removed from a three-year long 27-game losing streak, a APR score that placed the school on probation and the loss of 20 plus scholarships and a mass exodus of athletes who had either had enough or could not cut the mustard in the classroom.
Chancellor Harold Martin decided he had seen enough in his first year as the top Aggie and brought in a new athletic director from his inner circle in Earl Hilton. Hilton first task was simple. Find the right coach with the right amount of proven experience on the D-1 level, have a strong resume in resurrecting near dead football teams and winning championships, and someone who would put academics and integrity ahead of expediency of the quick fix.
The actual short list was never that long because one name continually leapt right off the page each time the subject was broached. It took a few trips back and forth to Louisiana and Greensboro and a lot of phone calls and some heavy negotiating but Hilton sealed the deal and Rod Broadway left Grambling within 24 hours of the national signing day in 2011 to embrace the colors and culture of being an Aggie.
The climb would be tough just to keep A&T’s head above water. Broadway himself was surprised just how bad things were under the surface. He walked into a situation with only 24 scholarships players to work with in his new home, no recruiting class his first year, and used the summer scouring the woods for enough walk-ons who would be willing to walk through pure hell with his he and staff to put a product on the field that would be somehow competitive.
Well year one was a little more than A&T becoming competitive. The Aggies put together convincing winning efforts against Morgan, Bethune Cookman, Delaware State and archrival NCCU in route to 5-6 record. Eyes were suddenly opened; people begin to think that just maybe the Aggies would gain back the respectability it once held for over two decades.
Last year it improved a little in terms of numbers by perhaps a half dozen more athletes at the most but the Aggies were saddled with an even bigger problem under continuing NCAA sanctions – a huge reduction practice time that cost A&T roughly two days of practice each week.
True to his style, Broadway did not harp on that fact as some ready-made excuse for losing but instead used it masterfully to get inside his team’s head to change their mindset from doormats into that of a winner. At mid-season, after an up and down first five games, A&T got hungry and found their mental toughness. They caught fire and went on a late season tear in dispatching FAMU, South Carolina State, and NCCU all in a row to finish with a 7-4 mark, and secured its first winning season in nearly a decade.
Now in 2012, the prognosticators decided in the preseason that A&T may just be on the road back to their contender status with two solid recruiting classes under their belt and a another talented one that arrived in camp back August. Still one more huge obstacle lay out there like unseen landmine.
A&T decided forgo a spring practice and concentrated instead on removing the academic APR stigma and they did with a 110 point jump to 948 was released by the NCAA. As the final reward, A&T sanctions were lifted and all 63 scholarships were restored although the Aggies remain ten short upon opening this season.
That shortage has not bothered this squad made up of 70 freshmen and sophomores as they jumped out to a quick 2-0 record against quality programs in Appalachian State on the road and Elon at home, both members of the powerful Southern Conference.
Just last week A&T gained that first important conference win over a talented Howard team before a live national TV audience on ESPNU to go 3-0 overall and 1-0 in the MEAC and that hasn’t happed since 2001. Now we’re all headed down to the Atlanta Classic in an early season showdown with South Carolina State in the battle of the second and third preseason picks in the MEAC title chase.
So just how far have the Aggies come in just two and half years? One hell of a long way. How far do they still have to go? Probably still a hell of a long way and the big hill climb in this marathon comes up Saturday afternoon.
A loss won’t be the end of the world for A&T but the pressure may very well be all over SCSU. The Bulldogs have been the top dog four of the last six years in the MEAC, now an old nemesis from back in the day is making a run to replace them as the big dog on the porch, and they are coming in hungry and pumped.
Some games were spotlighted as statement game for A&T before the season ever began and this is one of them. It will be a like a heavyweight fight between two defensive minded teams that like to run the football and force turnovers and that use strong kicking games to create short fields and come away with points when drives stall inside the red zone. Whoever can generate any sort of consistent passing game may have the upper hand if one of them builds an early working margin given the similarity in styles of the two teams.
SCSU wins most of their games with many style points while A&T does not really care about style of any sort but just finds a way to take most teams out of their comfort zone and make every contest a bloody backyard brawl. This game will be no different.
Quarterback play, and turnovers in the passing game will be everything in this game. Given what has happened thus far. A&T is getting a little better each week against better teams earlier and that is where scales should the tip in favor to the guys from the North.
N. C. A&T – 23
SCSU – 16