2022 Preseason Preview – Part 3
By Craig R. Turner
Published: August 18, 2022

As North Carolina A&T readies for its second and final season in the Big South the coaches and media have picked the Aggies to be the odds-on favorite to win the conference championship. Not that being picked first in nearly all of preseason polls is anything new for A&T, it was just a wee bit of surprise considering going 5-6 overall and tied for third in last year’s conference race.

However, given the Aggies championship pedigree over the last decade, no 19-month absence from competition to deal with, disrupted practice time, a full year of an intense conditioning and weight training regiment, and a infusion of several new coaches with a far more disciplined mindset, those voters as are fans expect A&T to be back on track in 2022 and to play in the championship fashion that they have come to expect and appreciate.

Today in part 3 first of our 5-part preview series of the 2022 North Carolina A&T football team we’ll take on the 800-pound gorilla in the room coming into the 2022 season – the entire back seven and in particular the secondary.

Looking back over 2021, it can honestly be debated that A&T perhaps lost three games due in part to shoddy pass coverage, Yes, suffering some key injuries early in the year and having to depend on very green freshman fresh out of high school helped contribute to play but there was clear evidence of bad technique, the inability to play consistent man defense, and to stay on assignment.

A&T’s Sam Washington was not the least bit pleased with that performance so enter new secondary coach Jason Makrinos, formerly the safeties coach at Kent State of the Mid-American Conference and defensive coordinator and the defensive backs coach for the Findlay University, a Division-II school in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference.

Makrinos helped Kent State to lead the MAC in interceptions and turnovers and finishing in the top ten of the FBS in those categories. While at Findlay Makrinos led the Oilers defense to a record 31 takeaways and its first ever playoff berth. He’ll have his work cut out for him as he hopes to improve on a pass defense and secondary that allowed 240 yards per game, a 59.8 completion rate, and ranked next to last in the Big South in interceptions with just seven.


The Inside Linebackers

Linebacker coaches Terry Lantz and Thomas Howard are understandably excited about the linebacker corps that has been assembled and why not, All three starters who finished the season return and all eyes are on the Big South’s best linebacker, bar none, in junior All-American Jacob Roberts.

Roberts (6-1, 235), the 2019 Celebration Bowl defensive MVP as a true freshman, avoided the sophomore jinx and came back strong last year gaining all-Big South honors as the Aggies leading tackler with 84 tackles, 38 solo, 12 for loss, five sacks, one interception while leading the nation in blocked punts with four. Roberts, a starter from the first day he set foot on campus, is inequitably team leader on defense in every aspect and is relentless on every play.

A&T has another inside linebacker who potentially can be as dominating as Roberts in Tyquan King (6-3, 215, So.). As a freshman King established himself quickly when injuries hit, stepping into a starting role, amassing 33 stops, 3 sacks, and one interception over nine games.

The inside spots will have plenty quality depth on hand with spring game standouts Ty’ Quan Kearney (5-11,210, R-Fr.) Malich Jacobs (6-2, 240, Sr.), and Greensboro native Alex Angus (6-2, 209, R-So.). The Aggies will add in highly recruited Sam Ofurie (6-2, 245, R-Fr.) who red shirted last year, Northeast Guilford’s Anthony Hairston (6-2, 250, R-Fr.) and 3-star Shrine Bowl pick Brennon “Mack” David (5-11, 235, Fr.).


The Outside Linebackers

Seems like only yesterday when Joseph Stuckey debuted as the new kid on the block that had to be reckoned with. Now Stuckey enters his final college season as another of those team leaders that will be needed to set the tone. The 6-0, 210-pound senior was second on the team in tackles with 72 tackles (36 unassisted), 6.5 tackles for loss, one interception, three pass breakups and one blocked kick.

Jazir Staton (5-11,190, R-Jr.) came on strong late last year in a support role after decent freshman campaign as a reserve defensive back and special teams contributor. This season he’s primed to get more playing time what he hopes to a breakout year as a player who plays strong run support but can also cover receivers underneath equally well.

Julian Monell (5-10, 210, R-Jr.) has been a top special teams’ player for the last two seasons and brings lots of experience to the table which will be needed on the depth chart.

After a red shirt season, former Grimsley product Sincere Burnette (6-1, 210, R-Fr.) got into the weight room hard over the winter and the changes were very noticeable in the spring. Blessed with great football instincts, he should be able to parlay that along with his obvious physical improvement into significant playing time this fall.

A&T’s outside linebackers have always been known for their range and outstanding speed to the ball. The Aggies added a couple of recruits that certainly fit into that mold with Joshua Benton (6-0, 190) from Fayetteville, Ga. and Jonathan Kimbrough-Campbell (6-1, 200), a 3-star recruit from Daytona Beach, Fl.


The Safeties/Rovers

This safety positions became a real a sore spot a year ago with teams constantly attempting to go over top picking on the Aggies vast inexperience in that area. Some off-season personnel moves, and development of the returning players give rise to restrained optimism.

The most pivotal slot is that of the Rover. There are some huge expectations for Mychale Salahuddin (5-11, 200, R-Jr.), a former Pitt running back who made the switch to defense after his transfer to years ago. Salahuddin played in ten games with 12 tackles and pass breakup during his transition and had a good spring practice and appears to be ready to step into the starting role.

Avarion Cole (6-0, 205, R-Fr.) is a tremendous young talent that has all the size, speed, and physicality to be an outstanding Rover and will definitely push the older Salahuddin for that top spot. Either way, fans will see a lot of Cole this season and for quite some time to come.

AJ Dupree is a 6-0 190 red shirt sophomore is another young candidate who got his feet wet a year ago in a reserve role and on special teams.

The free safety post is pretty much Janaz Sumpter’s to lose. The gifted Sumpter (6-0, 185, R-So.) was slowed by injuries in 2021 but the coaches have confidence that a healthy Sumpter will answer a lot of the questions from last season. With just 7 games under his belt, he still claimed 18 tackles as a freshman.

If he should falter, sophomore Ty Williams (6-1, 175) is more than ready to step in. The Detroit, MI. native was forced into action early as a true freshman and accounted himself very well over the course of the year with 14 tackles (8 unassisted) and was an integral part in A&T’s big road win over eventual HBCU national champion S.C. State.

David Laney (6-1, 180, R-Fr.) transferred in from East Carolina and is expected to see plenty action as well. The former Pirate was a 3-star prospect in 2020 from Highland Springs, Va.


The Corners

The cornerback position is the glamour spotlight for most defenses but is perhaps the most demanding since often times the corners are left on an island all by themselves to defend the outside receiver as well as protecting the edge in certain run situations.

The Aggies pulled off a huge coup when they signed Kansas transfer Karon Prunty (6-2, 185, R-So.) who was picked for the freshman All-America team and was all Big-12 honorable mention. After leaving Kansas, he briefly enrolled at South Carolina in 2021 but decided A&T was the better fit for him all the way around and took part in spring practice.

As a freshman starter at Kansas, Prunty had 26 tackles (22 unassisted), broke up 10 passes and made one tackle for loss and had one interception. Even more impressive he held opponents to a meager 38.5% completion percentage against him, which placed him at seventh in the nation while not allowing a touchdown pass in his direction in all of 2020.

Amir McNeill (5-10,170), the fifth-year senior from Laurinburg, NC, is probably one of the toughest and hardest competitors you could ask for on the opposite side. McNeill has great 4.3 speed and can run with most any receiver stride for stride. And despite his smallish stature, he is very physical as backed up by his stats dispute only participating in seven games because of injury – 26 tackles (18 unassisted), one tackle for loss and four pass breakups.

Aaron Harris (5-11, 185, R-So.), academically, is actually a rising senior but because of the Covid year and a red shirt before that, it allows him two more years of extra eligibility. Harris got his first trial by fire in his first full season in 2021 and steadily improved as time went on. His great efforts on special teams included a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and his eight tackles and one interception makes him the first man off the bench in the nickel package. He’ll be seeking more consistency as a regular this fall.

Nathaniel Spindale (5-11,185, So.) and Herbert Booker (5-11, 195, R-So.) are two more very young corners that probably were not quite ready a year ago to play meaningful minutes out the gate but were pressed into action because of a rash of injuries and pandemic circumstances. Spring practice and heavy individual off-season work has placed both of them in a much better situation going into 2022.

The Aggies added a second FBS transfer, this time for N.C. State, in Mario Love, Jr. (5-9, 170, Fr.). Love comes to A&T as a 3-star prospect after being courted by several FBS programs. Despite his lack of height, his excellent speed (4.3) and aggressiveness should pay dividends later on down the road this year as he adjusts to a new system.

*At the time of this publication there is not yet any definitive word on the availability of D. J. Crossen who suffered a very serious concussion a year ago against Furman.

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