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North Carolina A&T Aggies up to challenge of life in the Big South
After bolting the MEAC, football program adjusts
 
Published Saturday, May 8, 2021
by Herbert L. White

PHOTO | NORTH CAROLINA A&T ATHLETICS
North Carolina A&T football coach Sam Washington says playing only three games against historically Black colleges is one of the adjustments  the Aggies face with their first season in the Big South Conference. One of those games is against longtime rival North Carolina Central in the Aggies’ home opener on Sept. 25.

North Carolina is finished with the MEAC but not Black college football.


The Aggies, who released their 2021 schedule last month, officially join the Big South Conference next month, making them the second HBCU in its ranks along with Hampton. Coach Sam Washington, who has led A&T to a pair of Black college national championships, acknowledges the challenges ahead – especially after the school opted out of spring games due to COVID-19 concerns. He addressed those issues during a media availability, edited for brevity and clarity.


• On the 2021 schedule:


“When you get the opportunity to play football, that is fantastic for us. We have been without football for a complete year, and it feels like about two. So, we’re excited that we have a schedule, and with going with that idea that we are going to play means so much to myself and the staff and football team. We’re very excited about this upcoming season and going to the Big South. We know it’s going to be a tough task, but I think we will be prepared and looking forward to it.”


On no home games until Sept. 25 against former longtime rival North Carolina Central:


“Oh, that’s tough. We would like to have had a home game earlier, but it you know it is what it is. We’ll just to prepare and be ready for what was at hand.”

• On why playing HBCUs – soon-to-be former MEAC rivals NCCU, South Carolina State and Big South foe Hampton – is still important to the program:

“When you’ve got rivalries like that it’s very important that you continue those. It brings a lot of tradition, a lot of history. The fans look forward to the games as well as we do so, then to South Carolina State, I think that is quite important, you know that I had the opportunity to continue to play them, particularly this first season, I think it’s very huge. Hampton is, within the conference so we’ll be seeing them on the regular now.”

• Unknowns stemming from jumping leagues during a pandemic after not playing a game since December 2019:

“We’re just going to look at it just challenges. As coaches, we lean on a lot of tendencies and [what] we do know and going into a new conference and having no idea what you know that to happen or what’s coming forward makes it difficult, but I think we’re going to be ready for the challenge.”

• The vibe going into a season with fewer HBCUs on the schedule:

“When you’re dealing with changes it’s different. It’s difficult for some people, but I think it’s necessary. There comes a time in life when you have to do some things differently to grow, and I think that’s the idea here – to move forward.”

• On playing at Duke, which continues a recent streak with at least one FBS opponent on the schedule:

“We have been blessed with opportunities to play FBS schools. Of course, it is monetarily to our advantage. It gives us the opportunity to earn a little money, but also an opportunity for our guys to see what it’s like to play at that level and compete with those same kids that they played against and with in high school that reached that ACC level, and to know how close we are, or how far we are from becoming a [top tier] program. I think that’s fantastic.

“I think the vibe the last time we were there was very good, and we rocked and socked with them for a half.”

• On playing Monmouth for homecoming instead of an HBCU and the time needed to build rivalries in the Big South:

“Not very long, particularly with teams of Monmouth’s character. They’re just a championship level squad. They’re a true championship quality football team, so we’re very excited to compete and see exactly where we are and what we’re capable of. Having them for homecoming, now that’s a tough one, but we’re going to need everyone in the stands. We’re going to need all the help we possibly can get that we can. I think it’s a great advantage to have it at home, or during homecoming, and hopefully that energy will propel us to victory.”

• What his definition of success in 2021:

“We’re going to go into this thing thinking that we’re going to be at the top of the hill. It is very important that we play well and do well … and not be trying to become someone else. Our objective is to stop the run, we’re going to protect the football, and we’re going to win the kicking game. We’ll let the score do what it does.”

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