“We’ve gotten somewhat ebullient as far as who we’re recruiting,” A&T coach Rod Broadway said.
GREENSBORO — The rebuilding project at N.C. A&T is over. Now the Aggies football program is simply building.
A&T hosted a reception for alumni and fans on National Signing Day, a holiday of sorts for college football, when everyone is excited and hopeful for the next season.
It’s easy to get excited when you’re winning.
“We’ve gotten somewhat ebullient as far as who we’re recruiting,” A&T coach Rod Broadway said. “I say that, because the first couple of years here, we would drive down Benbow Road and throw scholarships out the window hoping to find someone.
“And now we’re competing for players against App State, UNC-Charlotte, Coastal Carolina, The Citadel, Old Dominion, people like that. We haven’t competed much against other teams in the MEAC. We’ve upgraded our recruiting in the types of kids we bring in.”
Broadway and his staff are bringing in a recruiting class of 17 players — five of them already are enrolled for the spring semester — to add to a program that finished the 2016 season ranked No. 20 in both the FCS Coaches Poll and the STATS Top 25 national rankings.
Nine of the 17 players are linemen, and six of those are offensive linemen. That includes 6-foot-3, 285-pound Dacquari Wilson of Greensboro, who helped Dudley win a state championship.
The offensive line was a strength for the Aggies last season, and four out of the five starters are back, including left tackle Brandon Parker, the MEAC’s two-time offensive lineman of the year.
But offensive linemen take time to develop. Rarely will a true freshman step into a starting role on a winning team.
“We’re filling a need,” Broadway said. “The offensive line is something we’ve been working on for a few years now. Bringing these six guys in, ... we’re getting some young guys we can develop for the future.
“That’s the plan. Those guys will have the opportunity to learn from some pretty darn good players. One or two of them might need to play this year, but hopefully we can redshirt some of them.”
A&T returns eight starters on offense and eight more on defense, but a handful of the new recruits could make an immediate difference.
The Aggies must replace Tarik Cohen, the MEAC’s all-time leading rusher and the centerpiece of A&T teams that went 28-8 with two league championships in the last three years.
Cohen’s backup, Marquell Cartwright, was good enough to start for most MEAC teams last year, Broadway said. The 190-pound junior is the heir apparent.
But the recruiting class includes Jamari Smith, a 210-pound back who is transferring from South Carolina of the powerful SEC. Smith was a three-star recruit out of high school in Jacksonville, Fla., but he got trapped on a deep roster and moved to defensive back and wide receiver.
“He’s a good player,” Broadway said. “He’s in grad school, and he fills an immediate need for us. ... I talked with Coach (Steve) Spurrier, and he had nothing but glowing things to say about the young man. He felt he would be a big plus for our program. After visiting with him, we though the same thing.”
A&T’s class also includes one linebacker, Kyin Howard from Eastern Guilford, and one quarterback, 6-4, 240-pound dual-threat Jalen Fowler from Spartanburg, S.C.