NORFOLK, Va. – Head coach Rod Broadway's teams have been known for their defenses, but it was the A&T offense that took center stage Friday at the annual MEAC Media Day held at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott.
The MEAC released the 2014 All-MEAC Preseason team, which included 10 North Carolina A&T Aggies. Four of those players were named to the first team with three Aggies earning the preseason nod on offense. The predicted order of finish was also released Friday with the Aggies picked to finish third. Bethune-Cookman and S.C. State were picked to finish ahead of the Aggies respectively. Howard quarterback Greg McGhee was selected as offensive preseason player of the year, while Norfolk State linebacker Lynden Trail was picked as the preseason's best defensive player.
Reigning MEAC Rookie of the Year and rising sophomore Tarik Cohen is the only Aggie on the preseason first team who made the 2013 postseason first team. Joining him on the first team is senior wide receiver Desmond Lawrence, offensive lineman William Ray Robinson III and fifth-year senior linebacker D'Vonte Grant.
The second teamers are fifth-year center Ronald Canty and junior Tony McRae, who made the second team as a defensive back and return specialist. The third team includes junior defensive linemen Michael Neal and Daniel Pinnix, sophomore punter Dominic Frescura and sophomore placekicker Cody Jones.
"I think it's great to have 10 guys earn some type of recognition," said Broadway, who is entering his fourth season at the helm. "It shows the conference is starting to respect North Carolina A&T again. What we have to do now is show how good we are on the field. I think we have guys capable enough of winning the conference, we just have to keep everyone healthy and learn how to handle success."
Cohen led the MEAC in rushing (104.4 yards per game) in 2013. He became the first Aggie freshman to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season, and he won a MEAC weekly honor five times during the season. He finished ninth in the Jerry Rice voting for best FCS freshman in the nation.
"We have to put him in better spots to be successful," says Broadway about Cohen. "We have to be smart on how we use him, and we have to be creative on how we get him the ball. We need to give him a chance to make plays for us."
Lawrence is another Aggie playmaker.
Earning first-team preseason is just another accomplishment to add to the Durham native's collection this summer.
Lawrence earned All-American honors in track and field in June after qualifying for the NCAA finals in the 100 meters at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore. He also competed in the USATF Championships over the summer.
On the football field, he led the Aggies in receptions (37) and receiving yards (403) in 2013.
Robinson is making his second appearance on the MEAC preseason first team. Robinson is a two-time All-MEAC selection at left tackle, earning first-team honors as a sophomore and second-team honors as a junior. He could move to the interior of the line this season at guard, but as a left tackle he has only surrendered one sack in more than 2,000 snaps played.
Grant was the only defensive player on the preseason first team despite the Aggies No. 1 ranking in rush defense and No. 4 ranking in total defense. Grant has led the Aggies in tackles his first three seasons as an Aggie. He is a two-time second-team All-MEAC selection who made 102 tackles last season. Grant has also scored four defensive touchdowns in his career, a school record.
Canty was the only A&T offensive player to make the second team. His durability has been an asset for the Aggies. Canty's importance was seen last season when he missed the Dec. 19 game against Delaware State, leading to the Aggies having 13 bad snaps. McRae has made most of his impact as a return specialist. He averaged 24.7 yards per kickoff return in 2013 and returned one kick for a touchdown. Despite the Aggies having an experienced secondary the past two seasons, McRae still started four games over those two years.
Neal and Pinnix were main contributors to the Aggies nationally-ranked defense. Neal made six tackles for loss and had four sacks in 2013. Pinnix led the team in sacks with seven, including two apiece against Elon and Howard.
Frescura and Jones made a major impact on the Aggies special teams as freshmen. Frescura aided in the Aggies upset of Appalachian State last September by averaging 47.1 yards on nine punts. Jones made 9 of 13 field goals and 30 of 31 extra points last season.
A&T opens the season in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge at 11:45 a.m., on Aug. 31 against Alabama A&M at Bright House Networks Stadium in Orlando, Fla.