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. In the final piece of our 5-part preview series of the 2022 North Carolina A&T football team we’ll take a peek inside at special teams play.
Special teams have long been the red-headed stepchild on most college football teams. While everyone else is concentrating on mastering spectacular offenses and overpowering defenses coaches will tell you that in close ball games, special teams play can change the entire complexion of contest and ultimately be the key difference between winning and losing.
A&T is blessed to have preseason All-Big South place kicker Andrew Brown (5-10, 185, So.) returning for his second season. Brown passed his freshman year with a strong “B-Plus” grade by connecting on 10-for-16 of his field goals and 28 of 29 extra points earning the fan nickname of “Money.” The Lexington, NC native also accounted for kicked off 46 kickoffs, recording 12 touchbacks and averaging 59.4 yards per kickoff.
Backing him up will be Elliott Kadans (6-2, 180, R-Fr.) who played at Mitchell County (N.C.) High School where he excelled as both a kicker and punter hitting on 69-74 PAT attempts, 3-3 on field goals, averaged 58.5 yards per kickoff, and 38.1 yards per punt his senior year there.
All-conference punter Mike Rivers finished his 4-year career at A&T decided to move on to grad school and the transfer portal to FBS San Diego State. Transfer Caleb Brickhouse (6-3, 220, R-So.) made his way back to his native state via Northern Colorado where he saw action in four games in 2021. Noted for his precise ball placement, the Elizabeth City product punted 19 times for 685 yards for an average of 36.1 yards, with the ball being spotted inside the 20-yard line seven times on his punts.
The Aggies will depend on a pair of freshmen to fill the void of 4-year player John Davis as the long snapper. Damien Jackson Jr. (6-0, 190, R-Fr.) and Bryson Ruddy (6-1, 180, Fr.) will handle the long snap duties. Both come into this season with strong credentials out of high school and from various developmental camps but have yet to play in their first college game. Quarterback Zach Yeager will take over the majority of the holder chores.
Last year the Aggies had some very interesting moments on kickoff and punt returns. Some good, and some bad and like the rest of A&T’s season was just not all that consistent.
There will be a lot of new faces taking over in the return game so expect to see a few different players taking turns especially on kickoff returns. Wide receiver Taymon Cooke (6-0, 185, R-Jr.) will one of the primary deep men. Reportedly the fastest man on this year’s team (4.33) the former Marshall transfer enters in his third year with the Aggies after returning six kickoffs for 213 yards for an average 35.5 yards per kickoff return including a long of 66 yards a year ago.
Beside him will be newcomer Laquan Veney (5-11,175, WR, Fr.), a former Army recruit who possesses similar high top end speed. He played his high school football at Highland Springs (Va.) and was rated as a three-star athlete by 247 Sports with offers from Boston College, Liberty, Buffalo and East Carolina as a senior.
You may very also see Aaron Harris, a key part of the secondary, snag a few kickoffs this year after returning one 98 yards and a score in last season’s final against Gardner Webb.
On punt returns fans will soon get familiar with true freshman Amonte Jones (5-10, 165) from Chesapeake Va. This former 3-star all-state product is truly an electrifying player in a small package who helped lead Oscar Smith to its second straight 6A title and returned a record five punts for scores as senior a year ago while doubling as a wide out with over 1,000 yards and 14 TDs in pass receptions.