NCCU picked to finish 8th in MEAC preseason poll

Jul. 25, 2014 @ 11:27 PM

There are 11 football teams in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, and N.C. Central is not one of the better ones, according to both head coaches and directors of sports information in the league who predicted the Eagles would fly in at eighth place when the season wraps up.

“I’m a little disappointed in that finish,” first-year NCCU coach Jerry Mack said. “But I’ll tell you this: I’m not new to this. I’m true to this.”

It was like a drop-the-mic moment that made NCCU fans in the audience roar during a MEAC luncheon at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott Hotel in Norfolk, Virginia on Friday.

NCCU had the largest and loudest fan base among the MEAC schools represented at the luncheon, which followed a session for media members, coaches and players.

Mack is tasked with getting the Eagles to make some noise in the MEAC that lately has been controlled by Bethune-Cookman and S.C. State, co-champs of the league a year ago, predicted to finish in first and second places, respectively, this time around.

N.C. A&T coach Rod Broadway in recent preseasons has sung the blues about how bad his teams would be. He’s humming a different tune now. The Aggies no longer are handcuffed by NCAA penalties that nixed their spring practices and initially cut scholarships on account of players performing poorly in the classroom prior to Broadway’s arrival in 2011. Broadway, the former head coach at NCCU, cleaned up that mess. The Aggies are slotted third in the MEAC.

A&T is coming off back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2001. That’s easier to do when a team has bodies to spare, Broadway explained. He said A&T had 29 players receiving scholarships when he arrived. As football scholarships increased for the Aggies, so did the wins, in part because the team wasn’t decimated when players got injured, Broadway said.

NCCU and A&T are supreme rivals, and Eagles fans at the luncheon had to sit in that ballroom and watch the Aggies get all of that shine, which included having four players selected to the MEAC’s preseason all-conference first team.

Eagles’ defensive back Mike Jones made the first team. Teammate Adrian Wilkins made the first team as a return specialist.

Four other Eagles also received preseason All-MEAC recognition. Senior offensive lineman Christopher Pressley was named to the second team, while redshirt junior tight end Nathan Scruggs, junior offensive lineman Clevonne Davis and redshirt junior defensive back Ryan Smith garnered third-team honors.

Howard, Delaware State, Norfolk State and Hampton were predicted to finish fourth through seventh in the MEAC, respectively. Morgan State, Florida A&M and Savannah State were tabbed to finish ninth through 11th, respectively.

But preseason picks are just preseason picks, because there simply is too much parity in the MEAC, Delaware State coach Kermit Blount said.

“Anybody can beat anybody on any given Saturday,” Blount said.

Former NCCU coach Henry Frazier III was at the luncheon. He said he’s working with Heritage Sports Radio Network and was at the MEAC event to interview players and coaches.

NCCU athletics director Ingrid Wicker-McCree fired Frazier last year after his marital issues kept making headlines.

Frazier has filed a lawsuit against NCCU. He wants his old job and the rest of the money from a contract that was paying him at least $225,000 a year. Frazier had two years left on his five-year deal.

Both Frazier and Wicker-McCree attended the luncheon.

Frazier’s firing opened the door for Mack. He was hired in December, and not only is this his first season with the Eagles, but the NCCU job is his first as a head coach. Last year, Mack coached wide receivers at South Alabama.

Mack is one of three new head coaches in the MEAC:

— Hampton coach Connell Maynor arrived after a long and successful run in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association with Winston-Salem State.

— Morgan State coach Lee Hull coached wide receivers at Maryland last year. This will be his first season as a college head coach. He replaced Donald Hill-Eley, who has landed as the offensive coordinator at Norfolk State.

NCCU a year ago was 5-7 overall, 3-5 in the MEAC.

The Eagles open the season against East Carolina on Aug. 30 (8 p.m., ESPNews).

The Pirates, members of the American Athletic Conference, play at the highest level of Division I, the Football Bowl Subdivision. NCCU is a D-I school in the lower-tiered Football Championship Subdivision.

On Sept. 13, NCCU hosts Charlotte, an FCS team that in 2015 will move to the FBS as a member of Conference USA.

NCCU visits Towson on Sept. 20. The Tigers lost to North Dakota State in last season’s FCS-championship game.

So it’s not going to be easy for NCCU.

What it is, though, is football.

“We embrace that challenge,” Mack said.