Anthony Harrisonby Anthony Harrison

Football is America’s true pastime. Baseball stepped aside decades ago — rather, it got tackled and sent to the emergency room. People can’t get enough football, an addiction intensified by the relatively clipped schedules.

Football is the genuine opiate of the masses, and by spring the masses have got some major withdrawal symptoms.

NC A&T University’s exhibition gridiron match on April 18 acted as a dose of methadone for all the football junkies. But it was also a social event for the Aggie faithful.

Cars pumping 102 Jamz packed Lot A4, adjacent to Aggie Stadium. Old friends caught up. The hot and greasy smell of frying chicken saturated the air. It was as if the tailgaters had already fast-forwarded to early September. Everyone was ready for the season to start up, for the football reload.

There was a decent crowd already in the stands, too — albeit largely only on the home side. It helps that the weather was perfect. According to one spectator, crowds have grown steadily, especially since head coach Rod Broadway began his tenure in 2011.

The crowd, the team, the cloudy weather — sure looks like football. (photo by Anthony Harrison)
The crowd, the team, the cloudy weather — sure looks like football. (photo by Anthony Harrison)

Broadway, formerly head coach at NC Central University and Grambling State University in Louisiana, produced three consecutive winning seasons for the first time in 25 years, tying five ways for the regular-season Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference title.

The tie only came after a loss to Broadway’s old team, NC Central. But whether in a five-way tie or not, that’s an achievement.

The Aggies seem hungry to continue that tradition; a hashtag on the flyer for the spring game is “#UnfinishedBusiness.”

The spring scrimmage — Aggies vs. Aggies, with offense in gold and defense in blue — showed A&T just might have the talent to deliver and extend their good fortune.

Two running backs caught the crowd’s attention. Sophomore Tarik Cohen was the hardest to see.

Cohen is tiny: 5-feet-6, 172 pounds, dwarfed by 6-feet-5 freshman quarterback Lamar Raynard. But the man is fearless. He took hits and made big plays; he showed good hands on the short routes the A&T offense favors.

At the end of the first quarter, a new arrival asked, “We ain’t score yet?”

A woman near me said, “No, but [Cohen’s] about to.”

Sure enough, Cohen ran the ball in for the first touchdown, dramatically diving to break the plane.

Freshman Cameron Hill would take on running duties afterwards. And he played masterfully.

Hill fought bullishly in the seams. He took loud, cracking hits and just kept going. He looked like he’d try to run through a flaming concrete wall if you gave him the play. And, like Cohen, he had hands made of flypaper.

The quarterbacks, though, relied on quick slants or tosses along the line of scrimmage. Raynard didn’t run the ball until about halfway through the second quarter, scrambling for 10-yard touchdown run. Junior Frank Foster ran more, and he was spry on his feet. Redshirt sophomore Oluwafemi Bamiro ran maybe once.

But the passing game worked, because the wide receivers showed flashes of brilliance.

Redshirt freshman Keenan Medley showed plenty of potential. He was great on his feet — hopping, dodging, gracefully breaking tackles. In the first half, he nearly jumped out of the stadium in an attempt to catch a bomb thrown too high.

Junior Darren Bullock produced one of the early memorable moments. In the second quarter, Raynard tossed a 23-yard lob to Bullock for what would’ve been a touchdown, had Bullock possessed the hands to connect — or rather, the hand.

“That woulda been a fingertip catch!” one man said.

Sophomore Denzel Keyes would later take that thunder. In the fourth quarter, Keyes pulled in a startling one-hander just short of the 50-yard line that threw the crowd into a frenzy.

Soon after, Bamiro threaded a bullet through the arms of a defender to connect with sophomore Xavier Griffin that hyped the spectators just as much.

But the Aggies shouldn’t rely too much on the wide-outs: The defense covered them like slime on a slug.

A&T’s defense was harder to gauge. They made some occasional interceptions, like redshirt freshman Tard McCoy’s bobbling catch in the fourth quarter. And they could break through the offensive line to make mock sacks. But there were no huge hits; they didn’t want to hurt any of their own teammates.

On the other hand, a fight broke out for some odd reason in the middle of the fourth quarter.

“Emotions runnin’ high,” one man said.

“Well, it’s a big game,” his friend laughed back.

The game ended with Hill running a fast route for his second touchdown. They’d played for two hours. And it was a good show, which was just the fix the crowd needed.

As I walked back to my car, a dazed woman approached me at the gate.

“Is it over? Who won?” she asked.

“Offense,” I replied.

“Oh, well,” she said. “I guess I missed it.”

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