Aggies ready to compete for MEAC football titleCourtesy NC A&T Sports Information / August 7, 2017
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NORFOLK, Va. – Running back Tarik Cohen, one of the best offensive weapons in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference football history, is no longer on the North Carolina A&T roster. Apparently, however, many in MEAC circles still believe the Aggies’ offense still has enough talent to be effective in 2017.
The conference released its 2017 preseason teams and predicted order of finish Friday afternoon (July 28) at the annual MEAC Press Luncheon at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott. Five Aggies were selected to the preseason all-conference first team. The Aggies also had one defensive player and one special teams player make first team (seven total). League sports information directors and head coaches also voted the Aggies to finish second behind arch-rival North Carolina Central this season.
The Aggies’ first teamers on offense are left tackle Brandon Parker (6-7, 309, R-SR, Kannapolis, N.C.), quarterback Lamar Raynard (6-4, 200, R-JR, High Point, N.C.), wide receiver Elijah Bell (6-1, 221, SO, Wheeling, WVa.), tight end Leroy Hill (6-3, 249, R-JR, Smithfield, N.C.) and center Darriel Mack (6-2, 300, R-SR, Clio, S.C.). Cornerback Zerius Lockhart (5-10, 175, R-SR, Auburn, Ala.) and return specialist Khris Gardin (5-7, 185, SR, Morganton, N.C.) were the other two first-team selections. Second-team selections include linebacker Marcus Albert (5-10, 205, R-SR, College Park, Ga.) and defensive tackle Julian McKnight (6-3, 280, R-JR, Conyers, Ga.). Defensive end Kenneth “KJ” Melton (6-2, 235, R-SR, Elizabeth City, N.C.) was a third-team selection.
Parker is considered one of the best offensive lineman in the nation. He has already received preseason All-American accolades from Athlon, Sporting News, Lindy’s and College Football America Yearbook. He is the reigning two-time offensive lineman of the year in the MEAC. He was one of the main reasons why the Aggies’ offense ranked No. 1 in the conference in third-down conversion, total first downs, rushing offense, scoring offense, fewest tackles for loss allowed, fewest sacks allowed and total offense. Parker recorded 48 pancake blocks and an average grade of 87 percent in 779 gradable plays. He has never surrendered a sack in his career and has been penalized only four times.
Raynard was a second-team All-MEAC selection after the 2016 season. Raynard had a career year in 2016, completing a single-season school record 64.6 percent of his passes while throwing for 1,489 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. Raynard had his season come to an end the week leading up to the Delaware State game on Nov. 12. A chest injury sustained in practice sidelined him for the final three games of the season – at Delaware State, at NCCU for the de facto MEAC Championship and at Richmond for the Aggies’ NCAA FCS playoff game against the Spiders. In the four games leading up to the injury, Raynard was a combined a 71-for-106 (.670) for 867 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions. His quarterback efficiency rating for that four-week span was an impressive 350.08. A rating of 186.2 led the nation in 2016.
Bell is coming off a season which culminated in him being named rookie of the year in the MEAC. He caught eight touchdown passes, a freshman school record. He had two 100-yard receiving games during the season including 101 yards and a touchdown on five receptions at Tulsa. Bell finished the season with 35 receptions for 631 yards to earn second-team All-MEAC honors.
Hill also had a breakout year in 2016. He made 17 receptions for 174 yards and two touchdowns to earn first-team All-MEAC honors at tight end last season. He caught two touchdown passes in the Aggies’ quadruple overtime upset win over Division I-FBS Kent State last September. He also had four catches against the Aggies other FBS opponent from a year ago, Tulsa.
Mack garnered All-MEAC for the first time in his career when he was named second-team all-conference at the end of the 2016 season. Mack is entering his third season as a starter at center for the Aggies. He managed 35 pancake blocks in 748 gradable plays. Mack makes all the assignment calls at the line of scrimmage for the Aggies. He has played in 27 games with 24 starts going into the season.
Lockhart’s 2017 preseason honor is his first-ever conference accolade. Lockhart has put forth the effort to earn conference accolades. He is a three-year starter at free safety for the Aggies but will switch to cornerback this season. In 36 games played, he has made 168 tackles (113 unassisted) with five interceptions and 15 pass defenses. His 168 tackles are the most career tackles on the active roster. Among active players, he also has the most interceptions and pass defenses. Lockhart finished last season with 65 tackles (47 unassisted) three tackles for loss, five pass defenses, two interceptions and one forced fumble …He was tied for second on the team in tackles and ranked 27th in the conference.
Gardin stepped into the national spotlight after a record-breaking season returning punts in 2015. He broke Division I-FCS records his sophomore season after compiling 740 punt return yards in a single season and 61.7 yards per game in punt returns in one season. He enters his fourth season with 1,223 punt return yards on 80 returns (15.09 per return). That puts 445 yards shy of the national FCS career record. Gardin also returns kickoffs for the Aggies, and he is a two-year starter at slot receiver.
The Aggies open the season on Sept. 2 when they travel to Boiling Springs, N.C., to face FCS foe Gardner-Webb at 6 p.m. Follow Aggies football on Follow Aggie athletics on Facebook (@ncatathletics).