Despite Foster's best efforts at linebacker, title out of NCCU's reach
It was July, just a few days away from the start of football practice, and N.C. Central senior linebacker Tazmon Foster was talking about rings.
He was in the Norfolk (Va.) Waterside Marriott hotel for the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference press luncheon, and for him — an undersized Division I linebacker from Henderson — it was all about the rings.
At that luncheon, NCCU was picked to finish fourth in the MEAC.
Foster wasn’t trying to hear that, because fourth-place MEAC finishes don’t come with rings.
This is Foster’s final season at NCCU, and he said he would define success during his last lap around the MEAC with the league title that comes with a berth into the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
The MEAC title comes with rings, too.
But the Eagles (4-5, 2-3 in MEAC) won’t be getting fitted for any jewelry. Their 38-14 loss on Saturday to No. 13 Bethune-Cookman, the defending MEAC champion, essentially stuck a pin in the bubble of outside hope that NCCU had for winning a league title.
Before leaving the field at NCCU’s O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium, Foster — with Bethune-Cookman’s marching band still making music in the stands — said he still has a reason to suit up and go hard.
“I’m still playing for North Carolina Central,” Foster said.
That guy played his heart out against Bethune-Cookman, chasing down Wildcats for 18 tackles, both a game high and a career high.
Foster (5-10, 215) leads the MEAC with 110 tackles, and he’s forced three fumbles.
“It’s a disappointment that we didn’t get that ring,” Foster said.
NCCU was hamstrung from the outset against Bethune-Cookman. The Wildcats came to Durham with the top defense in the MEAC, and Eagles redshirt freshman quarterback Malcolm Bell had to deal with that in his second collegiate start.
Redshirt senior quarterback Jordan Reid had been the starter all season until his lower-leg injury pushed Bell into the starting lineup in NCCU’s prior game, a win against Savannah State.
Against Bethune-Cookman, Bell was sacked three times and threw two interceptions on 6 of 18 passing.
Bell was working without NCCU’s most productive wide receivers, Adrian Wilkins and Lamar Scruggs, which certainly didn’t help the quarterback’s completion percentage.
Scruggs missed the game because of a leg injury, and Wilkins sat out for violating team rules.
On paper, not having Wilkins and Scruggs scratched 80 yards of receiving from NCCU’s game plan.
Special teams, though, is where Wilkins, a redshirt sophomore, has been a beast this season, scoring two touchdowns on kickoffs and two more on punt returns.
NCCU senior Thomas Dixon handled some of Wilkins’ return duties and exploded in the fourth quarter with a 100-yard kickoff return, matching Wilkins for the second-longest kickoff return for a touchdown in school history.
Wilkins went from goal line to goal line in a win against Charlotte on Sept. 14. He also has the second-longest punt return for a touchdown in school history, an 89-yarder in a win at Howard on Oct. 5.
In 1961, NCCU’s Richard Wilkins — no relation to Adrian Wilkins — set the school record with his 102-yard kickoff return.
NCCU this season has scored on five kick returns.
While the Eagles’ running game has been inconsistent, NCCU assistant coach Mike Mendenhall has the ball club’s special teams in a groove, either scoring on kick returns or advancing the ball for good field position.
“It provides a spark,” NCCU interim coach Dwayne Foster said.
NCCU, down 31-0 to Bethune-Cookman when Dixon took that kickoff to the house, got that spark way too late.
“Against a good football team like that, you can’t play from behind,” Coach Foster said.