GREENSBORO — All-America cornerback Mac McCain is almost ready.
Wide receiver Ron Hunt is not. Safety-linebacker Richie Kittles is likely done for the season. And running back Darius Graves could be lost, too.
Two weeks into the season, much of the buzz around N.C. A&T’s football team concerns injuries and how the Aggies are coping.
A&T (1-1) will wrap up its non-conference schedule on the road at Charleston Southern (0-2) at 6 p.m. Saturday.
And McCain could make his season debut. He sat out the Aggies’ first two games, recovering from knee surgery.
The redshirt junior from Dudley, a two-time All-MEAC defensive back, hasn’t played since suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee at Bethune-Cookman last November.
“Yes, there is a chance,” A&T coach Washington said today, knocking on the wooden lectern in front of him. “It’s actually a pretty good chance. This was our timeline coming into training camp. We wanted to get him back this week, just to get him acclimated and back into a game setting. I doubt very seriously that he will start. But we’re looking forward to him playing in some capacity.”
Across the field at the other cornerback spot, sophomore Amir McNeil is playing hurt. He made three tackles and broke up a pass play in A&T’s loss at Duke, playing the game with a soft cast protecting a bad left hand.
“He has a few damaged fingers,” Washington said. “But you don’t need those to play football.”
Graves, a junior from Dudley in his second season after transferring from North Carolina, figured to have an increased role this year as the primary backup to starting tailback Jah-Maine Martin.
But on just his third carry of the season, Graves was hit in the backfield at Duke and landed awkwardly.
“We’re healthier than I expected coming out of that (Duke) game,” Washington said. “But the one that concerns me the most is Darius Graves. He had a knee injury. We don’t know for sure yet, but we’re thinking it could possibly be an ACL (tear). If that’s the case, then that’s a season-ending injury. … We’re praying that’s not the case.”
The Aggies have already lost Kittles to ACL surgery. Kittles was the Celebration Bowl’s most outstanding defensive player in December, but he was hurt in the offseason.
That’s changed A&T’s defense. Senior linebacker Antoine Wilder moved into Kittles’ role as “rover,” a hybrid of safety and linebacker.
“I’m at rover now only because Richie is out,” Wilder said. “I like it a lot. It lets me show my range on the field. … You mess up at this position, and it’s a touchdown. But I like that. Last year at linebacker, I could free-lance a little bit. But at rover, you can’t free-lance because if you do and you’re wrong, then it’s a touchdown. There’s no safety and cornerback behind me now. I’ve got to make all the checks, tell other people what they’ve got to do.”
Hunt, a speedy senior from Southern Guilford, caught 22 passes and averaged a team-best 15.5 yards per catch last season. He was expected to be A&T’s starting slot receiver this year, but has not played yet.
“Ron’s injury is a little more serious,” Washington said. “He has a hamstring injury, and it’s very sensitive right now. He’ll be out for a while yet.”
The Aggies had both their top receivers from last year, Elijah Bell and Zach Leslie, on the field at Duke. They combined for just four catches for 76 yards, and each was forced out of bounds making a catch in the end zone.
Bell, who fumbled after catching a pass near the sideline in the second quarter, took the loss hard. Duke scored on the next play after the fumble, a 39-yard touchdown pass that pushed its lead to 21-10.
Bell apologized on Twitter after the game Saturday night, writing “Aggie Nation that one’s on me. Won’t let it happen again. We’re back to work on Monday.”
Washington, who has no social media accounts, admired the senior’s leadership but dismissed the notion that the loss was Bell’s fault.
“It just shows his character,” Washington said. “But I don’t want him to carry that burden on his shoulders. It was a team loss. It wasn’t that one play that lost the ballgame. Now, yes, it was a turning point in the game. But that’s not why we lost.”