Well the dog days of summer will be wrapping up shortly and we will soon be heading into the fall and hopefully cooler weather which can only mean one thing – football season is upon us and it’s going to look and feel a bit different as we kick off this next decade of A&T football.
The Aggies are no longer exactly the hunted at least initially as they have moved out of the Mid-Eastern Athletic conference and is starting anew in the Big South.
How will the Aggies match up playing a Big South schedule is still open for debate but according to the league’s coaches, A&T will finish no less than third behind the conference’s traditional front runners Monmouth and Kennesaw State. All three teams are ranked in the FCS Top 25 which is a Big South record so there will be a lot eyes cast on this year’s race with a definite bent toward those weekly rankings and jockeying for those choice seeding for the FCS playoffs beginning in late November.
It will be a first time out against not only those teams but programs like Robert Morris and North Alabama. A&T has had some prior experience with Big South competition locking horns in recent years with former member and now FBS Coastal Carolina and Gardner Webb.
Just last year A&T went on the road and beat a scrappy Charleston Southern team behind a strong second half offensive performance. A&T and Hampton will reunite on the field after a three-year hiatus after the Pirates left the MEAC for the Big South three years ago. Now they are conference foes once again.
This year’s Aggies are coming into the season as squad having come off a huge layoff, missing all of 2020 after the MEAC opted not to play last fall in the midst of the pandemic. A&T along with four other schools decided opt out of the shortened spring season which left them plenty of time to extensively train, recruit, build a lot of depth, consume a lot of film, and work on the mental and physical preparation for fall.
How deep is A&T after being out of the limelight for almost two years? Coach Sam Washington returns 13 seniors with additional eligibility because of the Covid allowance given by the NCAA, 11 of which have already graduated and nine of those graduates having an extra two years of playing time left to them along with 41 returning lettermen. Experience should not be an issue.
Covid, although it canceled the 2020 season, allowed for the accumulation of a lot of talent especially along both interior lines, a topic will explore due course as we go through this series.
Today in Part 3 of this year’s 5-part preview series we examine the front seven components. One of the most talented units that A&T has had in modern memory is it’s stable of top flight linebackers while gone are many the familiar names along the interior line that kept opponents well under a 100-yard average in rushing over the last three years. That fact poses perhaps the largest question mark on how well will the defense absorb those losses up front entering this inaugural season into the Big South.
While A&T will not have a lot of returning faces here so the Aggies will be depending heavily on a lot of new blood that will be injected on the inside to create depth.
Defensive coordinator Courtney Coard is very high on Fayetteville native Shomari Wallace (6-2, 275, Jr.) after missing the 2019 season and he is expected to be in one of the starting roles on September 4th against Furman.
The Aggies recently got a huge boost with the return of graduate nose tackle and hometown product Michael Branch (6-0,322) to the lineup. Branch become a dominant force in 2019 playing in 12 games with four starts making 17 tackles (10 unassisted) with 3 ½ tackles for loss and two sacks.
Karfa Kaba is a 6-3, 265 pound senior whose promise has been long overshadowed with injuries throughout much of his time at A&T. Now fully healthy, Kaba should see some quality minutes in this year’s tackle rotation.
There are four key FBS transfers that add much needed experience and valuable depth who will play critical roles from the outset in 2021.
Robert Porcher IV (6-1, 272, Jr.), son of retired all-pro tackle Robert Porcher, comes to A&T from Virginia Tech and where he appeared in 14 games for the Hokies before transferring in 2020. Porcher is a athletic down lineman who is quick off the ball and runs to ball. He rated as the No.41 defensive lineman prospect by 247Sports.com as high school senior out of Orlando, Fl.
Another former ACC product who followed suit is Charlotte native Elijah Brown (6-4,280, So.) who made the trek to Greensboro from Duke this past season. At Providence Day Brown was a three-star prospect listed as the No. 71 defensive tackle in the country by 247Sports.com and a two-time North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association (NCISAA) all-state pick.
Octavious Pringle (6-0, 285, So.) is a big stout stopper who brings both size and strength down in deep after transferring in from Coastal Carolina. Pringle was a 3-star prospect and Shrine Bowler from Cayce, SC.
Adrian Spellman (6-4, 250, Fr.) sat out all of last year at Old Dominion before deciding to relocate his lot with the Aggies. Spellman is another 3-star prospect at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC.
A&T will add one of its own recruits into that new mix at tackle with Javon Armstrong-Grady, a 6-2,260 pound freshman from Bayboro, NC. Armstrong-Grady was a superb multi sport athlete at Pamlico County winning the state heavyweight wrestling championship as well as all-conference and all-regional football honors in 2020.
While the tackles will be new the ends are old hats on defense with the return of bookend red shirt seniors starters Jermaine Daniel (6-3, 240) and Devin Harrell (6-3,240).
Harrell came into his own in 2019 where he accounted for 37 tackles (21 unassisted) with 11 tackles for loss (50 yards lost) and seven sacks (40 yards lost) and gained all conference honors in the process.
McDaniel is on everyone’s All-America list this year an rightfully so. he produced 40 tackles, 29 solo, 11 assists, 12 for loss (68 yards) and 7.5 sacks (54 yards lost). Blessed with great speed off the edge and a variety of moves, McDaniel was named to the preseason All-Big South first team and numerous FCS preseason All-America selections.
Rotating with those two will be East Carolina transfer and Greensboro native (SE Guilford) Trey Lowe (6-4, 253, So.) and red shirt sophomore Janorris Robertson (6-2,245), an extremely fast and very physical defender from Jacksonville, Fl.
True freshman Henry Daniel (6-2,235, 4.6) was a highly regarded prospect from South Granville High School that has made an early impression.
It would be a safe assumption to say that A&T is blessed with one of the finest, if not the best pair of inside linebackers in the FCS. The cupboard on the inside is well stocked. Kyin Howard (6-0, 250, R-Jr.) and Jacob Roberts (6-0, 235, So.) are about as good as they come.
Howard immediately earned respect right of the gate in the Big South even before playing a down by being named preseason first team all-Conference and why shouldn’t he be? in 2019 he started all 12 games posting 79 tackles (43 unassisted) to go along with 8 ½ tackles for loss (24 yards lost), two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Roberts may have actually topped in him in 2019 as a true freshman with 62 tackles (38 unassisted) to along with 12 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two interceptions, one pass breakup and three pass defended finishing the season tied for the team lead in tackles for loss and was third on the team in tackles while being named the defensive MVP of the Celebration Bowl.
The play behind the two upperclassmen won’t see much of a drop off if any with the presence of senior Alex Fumbah (6-1,235) who started eight of 11 games in 2019 with 49 (27 unassisted) tackles, 5 ½ tackles for loss, 1 ½ sacks and intercepted one pass.
Sophomore Kenandre Jones (6-0,252 and Chris Williams (6-2,235) are ready to move up as well from special teams duty and should contribute in a large way this coming season.
A couple of newcomers may see their stock rise as the season goes forward. Anthony Hairston (6-2,230) is a promising prospect from Northeast Guilford as is highly thought of 3-star recruit Sam Ofurie (6-2,240) from the powerful IMG Academy in Florida. Ofurie chose the Aggies over scholarship offers from Syracuse, Michigan, Marshall, Boston College, and UMass.
Joseph Stuckey has been a key component to the Aggie defense on the outside ever since he set foot on campus three years ago and that will not change one bit in 2021. The 6-0 215 pound junior ranked second on the team in total tackles with a whooping 70 (41 unassisted), 2.5 sacks, two interceptions, two pass breakups, four passes defended, three recovered fumbles and a forced fumble.
3-star recruit Alex Angus (6-1,205, Fr.) decided over the spring that A&T would be a better fit for him after all than East Carolina and made the transfer back to Greensboro. The former Page HS star has wowed the coaching staff in fall camp and appears poised to become an immediate impact player on the outside.
After a year of transition from his transfer from the University of South Carolina, Stephen Davis Jr.(6-4,218, Sr.) showed that he was as versatile as a Swiss army knife in 2019 playing not only as an outside linebacker but also as a rover and at defensive end as well. He played in nine games with two starts finishing up with 14 tackles, one forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
Freshman Tyquan King (6-2,225) is a 2020 3-star prospect from Dillon, SC who can play both inside or outside with 4.59 speed and giving him the ability to chase down ball carriers in the open field and to cover tight ends in space.
Two more new names that fans will need to get familiar with this year will be sophomore Julian Monell (5-9, 190) and freshman Ty’Quan Kearney (5-11,215). Monell comes from Winston Salem via Parkland Hs where he was a two way player) while Kearney was two way contributor at West Craven HS in Vanceboro, NC and was chosen last year as the coastal regional defensive Player of the Year with a staggering 178 tackles his senior season.