GREENSBORO – In the eyes of fourth-year head coach Rod Broadway, the North Carolina A&T football team has pretty much put together two consecutive 7-4 seasons on effort.
Add in fundamentals and technique, however, and there might have been some trophies associated with that effort. Spring practice has returned to Aggieland as the Aggies completed practice No. 8 on Saturday, March 22. The team will practice March 24, 26, 28 and 29 of this week, and March 31 and April 2 before playing in the Spring Game on April 5 at noon.
Broadway hopes the Aggies first voyage into spring practice in two years will add those two components – fundamentals and technique – as the Aggies head into the 2014 season.
"I think everybody is excited to be back out here," said Broadway. "There were some mistakes we saw being made on the field the last two years that we chalked up to not having a spring to work on the little things. We're going to have a pretty good chance to be a pretty good football team if we can stay healthy and get a couple of more guys in here to help us."
The Aggies have had some heart-wrenching losses over the past two seasons. There was the last-second touchdown loss to Morgan State in 2012. There were the red zone turnovers against Bethune-Cookman during the same season. There was the blocked punt for a safety coupled with a few more special teams errors in Atlanta that led to a difficult 29-24 loss to S.C. State. The Aggies also surrendered a 23-14 fourth-quarter lead at Morgan State to lose 24-23.
The Aggies lost all four games last season by less than a touchdown. The ability to practice this spring with their approximate 65-man roster will hopefully flip those scores in the Aggies' favor this upcoming season.
"Our guys have been working decent this spring," said Broadway. "But we still have to learn how to work like champions and prepare like champions. We're excited about being out here with an opportunity to coach these guys into a championship team."
On the day of the Spring Game, April 5, there is a pig picking and cookout scheduled at Aggie Stadium. The festivities are open to the public.
The A&T Sports Hall of Fame is asking you come out to the game and celebrate Aggie football with your Aggie family.
DENZEL GOES BACK TO WORK
It didn't take long before Denzel Keyes was back in practice. That would be football practice, although it is hard to keep up with the way Keyes switches ports with ease. Eight days after the North Carolina A&T men's basketball team had its season come to an end with a 53-47 loss in the MEAC tournament, Keyes went back to playing football. He has participated in three spring practices thus far.
Keyes caught six passes for 76 yards as a freshman for Aggies football in 2013. After the Aggies defeated North Carolina Central on the gridiron on Nov. 23, the A&T basketball coaches had him on a flight to Atlanta to help the Aggies against Georgia Tech. Keyes played 25 games for the basketball team and started the final six games of the season. He played 10.7 minutes per game, averaged 2.2 points and 1.7 rebounds.
In addition to all his athletic exploits, he is a chemistry major with a better than 3.0 grade point average.
"It's a grind," Keyes said. "You just have to be organized, talk to your teachers and let them know about your schedule. They will work with you."
Even during his eight-day break away from practice, Keyes said he still came out to practice in order to not get too far behind with learning the signals and terminology.
"Making the transition is not that difficult," said Keyes. "The biggest adjustment is getting adjusted to the physicality of football. Basketball is not nearly as physical as football. I have a lot of work to do to get myself back into the groove. I'm just out here trying to learn as much as I can."
THE YOUTHFUL O-LINE
The Aggies have invested heavily in signing offensive linemen with their previous two classes.
With starting left guard Danye Gorrell, starting right tackle Nathan Isles and starting right guard Timothy Sunkins gone because their eligibility has expired, the Aggies are looking for their investment to pay off in 2014.
The young linemen are also getting a lot of work because starting left tackle and William Ray Robinson and starting center Ronald Canty are recovering from injuries. The Aggies routinely used five redshirt freshmen Saturday during their scrimmage. Darriel Mack, Brandon Parker, Major Kay and Wes Cole were among the youngsters getting an opportunity on Saturday.
"You look out there and all you've got is freshmen and guys who haven't played on game day before," said Broadway. "But the great thing is they're getting a lot of work. That's what they need the most. They're going against defensive linemen who played last year, a couple who played well for us last year, so that should give them a chance to develop."
A GREAT SCHEDULE
A&T's 2014 spring practice is leading up to Aug. 31 when the Aggies open the 2014 season against Alabama A&M in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge in Orlando, Fla. The Aggies then come home to play 2013 Division I-FCS quarterfinalist Coastal Carolina. The Aggies also play Chowan, Hampton, Florida A&M and Morgan State at home.
They also play Piedmont Triad rival Elon and make a return to Atlanta to play S.C. State.
"We're looking forward to going to Orlando and Atlanta to compete," said Broadway. "We also have a pretty strong home schedule with Coastal Carolina coming in and then I think we turn around and play Elon that next week. So we've got our hands full. I'm looking forward to the challenge."