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Rain can't dampen Aggies' spirits
GREENSBORO – The sky was gray, the field green, the jerseys blue and gold.
And for one day, at least, the outlook was rosy.
With new head coach Alonzo Lee running the show from the sideline, N.C. A&T’s Blue team defense eked out a 27-26 victory over its Gold team offense in the annual spring game Saturday at Aggie Stadium.
Rising junior linebacker Brandon Jackson made eight tackles for the Blue, which came back from deficits of 14-0 and 17-10. Linnell Evans, another linebacker who redshirted as a freshman last season, made four of his six tackles in the backfield.
Carlton Fears, who will be a senior in the fall, staked an early claim to the starting quarterback job, completing 17 of 28 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns for the improved offense.
But in this controlled scrimmage – the offense scored points on touchdowns and field goals, while the defense earned points based on things like third-down stops and turnovers – the final stat sheet didn’t matter much.
About 300 people, many huddled under umbrellas, turned out in a misting rain to watch a team of young players and a brand new coach working to wash away the grime of five straight losing seasons.
“We’re good and excited about what’s going on because the guys are excited,” Lee said. “They feel this new dawn that’s about to happen.”
Lee takes over a program that went 3-9 last year, 1-7 in the MEAC. And that was an improvement: The first win snapped a 27-game losing streak and the MEAC victory was the first since 2005.
Lee is the 17th head coach in the program’s history, but he is the fifth man to hold the job in the last eight years.
A&T is 23-58 in that span. Nearly half the wins came in one season, 2003, when the Aggies went 10-3 and won a MEAC title.
“We’ve got a long way to go before we can rest, but they’re working hard and we’re winning individual battles on and off the field,” Lee said. “I tell them that’s the biggest key: You’ve got to be a champion Sunday through Saturday.”
For the next six weeks, Lee said, the effort will focus on the weight room and the classroom.
That doesn’t surprise freshman wide receiver Torrian Warren, a Dudley graduate who caught four passes for 51 yards in the spring game.
“He came in, and the first thing he said to us was, ‘How’s everybody’s grades?’ He didn’t say nothing about football. He wanted to know about grades,” Warren said. “Then it was, if your grades are good, let’s go to work. First day he was here, we came it at 6 in the morning and went through drills. … The work’s really paid off. It showed on the field when we put up some points.”
Wallace Miles, A&T’s leading receiver last season as a freshman, caught two touchdown passes. Nigel Tomlin ran seven times for 43 yards and a TD.
Lee said he was pleased with the way his offense started, especially in the passing game. Fears looked good throwing the ball, both in the pocket and on roll-outs.
“On defense, I thought it took us a while to get cranked up, and it can’t be like that,” said Lee, who was Morgan State’s defensive coordinator the last three seasons. “Defense wins championships, and with me being on the defensive side so long, I love to see them do well. Although, I was really excited about our offense. I really feel if we can have our offense clicking, we’re going to make it happen on defense.”
Players and coaches, offense and defense, seemed happy to be on the field again, glad for a chance to leave the past in the past.
“We looked pretty good, but we’ve still got things to work on,” Warren said. “We’ve still got little baby mistakes we’ve got to get fixed. After that, man, the sky’s the limit. There’s no stopping the offense. The offense is going to score. I think we’ve got something in the making right here.”
By Jeff Mills