In today’s Part 5 and the final installment of the 2021 BDV Preview we’ll take a look at the offensive backfield and special teams. A&T has a long history of superb running backs and this year will be no different with one of the most electrifying runners in the country toting the rock and some exciting support talent in behind him.
The Aggies will be breaking in a new quarterback who really isn’t all that new along with a solid kicking game that is on a par with any of the better programs in the FCS.
Jah-Maine Martin is the truth. Plain and simple. There are some great backs across the country in the FCS ranks coming into this fall but you will be hard pressed to find one better than the senior from Conway, S.C. Martin exploded on to the national scene in 2019 with a stellar season rushing for 1,446 yards on 187 carries leading the nation in both touchdowns (23) and yards per carry (7.7) while averaging 120.5 yards per game.
He posted seven 100-yard games during that season and one over 200 yards. He’s responsible for the second most yards in a single-season in school history breaking single-season school records in rushing touchdowns, average yards per carry, and total touchdowns.
Martin, at 5-10, 220 pounds, possesses a rare combination of a power, speed (4.47), and open field explosiveness to another level as evidenced by nine carries of 50 yards or more during the season with all nine going for touchdowns. His performance earned him first-team , All-MEAC honors, All-American honors from the Associated Press (second-team), FCS Stats (second-team), Boxtorow (first-team) and HERO Sports (first-team).
He’s again expected to have another stellar campaign in ’21 being picked as a preseason All-Big South first team pick and several media All-America teams.
Another proven weapon in the ground game is Kashon Baker (5-6,170, R-Sr.) who brings a distinct water bug shiftiness with him and is a excellent receiver out of the backfield. In spelling Martin as the number two back, Baker accounted for 439 yards rushing with five touchdowns on 83 carries. He also caught seven passes for 128 yards and a touchdown.
The Aggies added four versatile freshmen prospects in the year off and one if not all should see some playing time in behind the two seniors this season at some point in the non-conference season.
Frederick “Wesley” Graves (5-10, 217) is from Danville’s (VA) storied George Washington High School where he broke the school’s touchdown record his senior year running for 1,526 yards with 33 touchdowns while gaining All-State honors in 2019.
The Aggies went way north to New Jersey to sign South Jersey Player of the Year and All-State running back Bhayshul Tuten (5-11, 195) from Paulsboro, N.J. Tuten rushed for an impressive 1,282 Yards and 19 scores and also added an additional 184 yards on 11 receptions for 4 more touchdowns despite playing a shortened 7-game spring season.
Perhaps the biggest “get” during the off season may have been the signing of Charlie Dixon, a 247sports and Rivals 3-star battering ram from State Champion Calloway High School in Hogansville, GA.
Dixon signed with Aggies in February after turning down scholarship offers from four Power 5 FBS programs – West Virginia, Tennessee, UAB, Mississippi State, and Louisville amongst the 15 or so offers he received. Despite missing four games to quarantine and to deal with injuries, Dixon still rushed for 1,045 yards and 16 TDs in seven games. Over a four-game stretch, he rushed for 735 yards and 11 touchdowns. The 6-3, 225 pounder, who boasts 4.49 speed, went on to be named first team All-State and the MVP in his team’s win in their state championship game.
Cody Young(5-10,185) is from Hickory, NC and spent last year at Fork Union Military Post Graduate program before committing to the Aggies last winter. Young had a standout career as a multi-purpose back who amassed over 1,800 yards in total offense as a senior at Hickory High where he captured All-Conference and County honors.
A&T fans are all too familiar that when the Aggies go to a two back set kin the red zone one is usually a big fullback to either lead the way or to power the ball in from close range. The Aggies will be rotating a couple of red shirt freshmen in that slot this season.
Melik Ward (6-0,265) is from perennial high school power Tarboro High School (NC) and made the transition from defensive lineman to fullback during the dormant Covid year and will see lots of snaps in those short yardage situations.
More of a natural runner, Kinsley Nwachukwu (6-0,235) may get more carries outside of the red zone than the norm as the offense develops. The Roseville, NC product doubled as the big back and linebacker during his high school days and rushed for 516 yards and 6 touchdowns as a senior.
For the second straight season, A&T’s previous backup quarterback will move into the starter’s role as a new season begins. For most teams that could be a sore stop but just like the now graduated Kylil Carter stepped to the forefront in 2019, Jalen Fowler (6-4, 235, R-Sr.) will step in under center for 2021.
And much like Carter, his experience as a starter might have been limited, his talent level and experience gained as a designated hitter from the year before wasn’t. Fowler’s biggest moments came in unexpected circumstances. When a injuries forced him into service against FAMU he led his team on a late drive to force overtime on the road. The second and most demonstrative came when he came off the bench early in the second half against Bethune Cookman to ignite a stalled offense going 5-6 for 105 yards and 2 TD passes in routing the Wildcats 47-17 to clinch a share of the MEAC title.
Head Coach Sam Washington has been very clear since the end of the spring that the Greenville, SC native is without question his #1 QB and has complete confidence in his abilities and will expect big things from him as the leader of the offense.
Backing him will be former ECU transfer and Charlotte, NC product Kingsley Efedi (6-2, 215, R-Sr.). Ifedi, already a elusive runner, was impressive in running the read option last season and is coming off very solid spring and fall camps in throwing the football after becoming completely familiar with the offense after his initial season in 2019 as third on depth chart.
Zach Yeager (6-2, 205) was one of the top FCS QB prospects in the country from Minneapolis North HS in 2020 and it was A&T that finally won out for services over 2021 (spring) FCS runner-up South Dakota State in an intense recruiting battle that encompassed over a dozen schools including all of the Ivy League. Even with an extra year of study, Yeager will most likely remain in waiting this season but its only a matter of time before the strong arm dual threat gets his shot.
There is reserve help available with walk-on quarterbacks in freshman Alston Hooker (6-1,185) from Ragsdale HS (Jamestown) and red shirt sophomore Khalil Gilliam (6-3,180) from East Mecklenburg in Charlotte.
Mike Rivers (6-0,170, Jr.) returns as one of the most reliable parts of the kicking game after averaging 45 yards per kick in 2019. A quick release punter, Rivers consistently is good with his ball placement and hang time allowing the coverage teams plenty of leeway to get up the field.
Elliot Kadans (6-3,175) is a talented freshman who enters his first year with the squad and will provide A&T a solid backup after averaging 40 yards per kick when he was at Mitchell County High School.
All conference kicker Noel Ruiz graduated and made the off season graduate transfer after the 2019 season to Georgia State. The Aggies have replaced him with a freshman newcomer that has shown an outstanding leg with distance and accuracy in Chris Brown (5-10,165) from West Davidson High School.
Brown was terrific at West hitting on 15 of 15 on extra-point attempts. Brown went 6 for 9 on field goals, and even broke a school record with a successful 47-yard attempt. His resume also included 24 touchbacks on 30 kickoffs.
Brown got on everyone’s radar when he was named the top place kicker for 2020 at the Chris Sailer Kicking Camp in Las Vegas. Brown garnered All-Central Carolina 2-A honors and the conference’s male athlete of the year and was also an 2-time all-state soccer player.
Davis Rogers returns for his senior season and is a very accurate place kicker and kickoff specialist. His best year came in 2018 when Kicked the ball off 29 times for a total of 1,685 yards for an average of 58.1 yards per kickoff with 2 touchbacks. He’ll be sound insurance when called upon this season with his experience and calmness.
The “Mr. Reliable” award has to go to long snapper John Davis (6-0,205, Sr.) Davis has been a dependable and outstanding long snapper for the Aggies who over the past three seasons and has helped the Aggies win three straight MEAC championships and three straight HBCU national championships.
The new kid on the block is Damian Jackson (6-1,218, F.) from Indian Trails, NC (Porter Ridge HS) and will be the future full time long snapper for the Aggies.