|Following behind a legend|
|Published Tuesday, January 1, 2019|
N.C. A&T football coach Sam Washington was named MEAC coach of the year in his first year. He deserved it.
On Jan. 8, Washington became the 19th head football coach in school history. He admitted he had been handed the keys to a Ferrari. Among the players returning for the 2018 season was quarterback Lamar Raynard, the 2017 MEAC offensive player of the year. Raynard’s high school buddy and 1,000-yard rusher Marquell Cartwright was also back, along with first-team All-MEAC receiver Elijah Bell.
The Aggies also returned eight players on defense, including NFL defensive end prospect and MEAC defensive player of the year Darryl Johnson Jr. and All-American cornerback Mac McCain III. With all the essential parts in place, Washington just wanted to make sure he kept the luxury sports car running without wrecking it. N.C. A&T got on the road going 100 miles per hour with the car running smoothly.
The Aggies opened the season ranked 14th on the FCS level and defeated the No. 6 team Jacksonville State in the annual FCS Kickoff in Alabama. The following week the Aggies defeated FBS institution East Carolina of the highly-regarded American Athletic Conference. The win marked the third straight season A&T was victorious against an FBS school. The Aggies then climbed to No. 4 in the nation, their highest ranking ever, after blowing out Gardner-Webb 45-6 at BB&T Stadium.
Then adversity entered. Raynard went through a series of injuries. In what was deemed a non-conference game against Morgan State because the departure of Hampton left some schools with only seven conference games, the winless Bears ended the Aggies 15-game winning streak on a 36-yard field goal with two seconds remaining.
The Aggies then found themselves trailing 16-10 at halftime five days later to South Carolina State before a second-half rally fended off a second straight loss. But on Oct. 13, A&T did drop a conference game against Florida A&M on a 26-yard field goal with four seconds left. In an instant, all the expectations coming into the 2018 season seemed to be weighing on the team.
“We needed the wakeup call,” Washington said. “We started to smell ourselves so to speak. We thought we were better than the way we were practicing. Losing to Florida A&M was a turning point for putting things back into perspective. Despite how good you are, you still have to do the little things for big things to happen for you.
“You can’t assume people are going to lay down for you because of your past success,”
Washington led the Aggies to four straight wins to close out the regular season. All four wins were by double-digits, including a 35-10 victory over Bethune-Cookman, a road win at Savannah State without Raynard in the lineup and a 45-0 win at archrival N.C. Central. FAMU lost two more conference games, pathing the way for the Aggies return and win the Celebration Bowl.
A&T finished 10-2. The team placed 15 players on the all-conference teams, including seven on the first team. Senior Micah Shaw was named MEAC offensive lineman of the year and Johnson was the league’s defensive MVP.
“The expectations at this university are always high and that speaks to the excellence this university has displayed over the years,” Washington said. “Thanks to the excellence of coach Broadway, those expectations were made even higher. Coach (Broadway) built a program here where people expect us to do great things. I’m thrilled we are still meeting those expectations.”
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