By ADD SEYMOUR JR.
Despite having to retool a bit on offense, North Carolina Central has been picked to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference race in 2017, according to MEAC coaches and sports information directors.
The Eagles, who didn’t lose an FCS game last season until their one-point loss to Grambling in the Celebration Bowl, had five players chosen to the MEAC’s first team preseason All-Conference defensive squad and have their 2016 leading rusher, preseason All-MEAC 2nd team pick, Ramone Simpson, returning. He will also get help from 3rd team All-MEAC pick Dorrel McClain, their leading rusher from 2015 who missed last season with an injury. NCCU will have to find a replacement for last year’s offensive leader in dual threat quarterback Malcolm Bell.
Picked second, with five first place votes, is their rival North Carolina A&T. The Aggies lost star rusher Tarik Cohen to the NFL, but quarterback Lamar Raynard who threw for nearly 1,500 yards and 14 TDs in a run-heavy offense, has been named the MEAC’s first team, preseason All-Conference quarterback. He will throw to fellow All-MEAC first teamer in wide receiver Elijah Bell, and will have three All-Conference Aggies on the offensive line to block for him. Marquell Cartwright will step in for Cohen.
The MEAC’s leading tackler last season and this season’s preseason MEAC Defensive Player of the Year, linebacker Darius Leonard, returns to lead a defensive-minded South Carolina State squad that’s picked to finish third in the MEAC. Six SCSU defenders were named to the preseason All-MEAC team, indicative of a team that was led the conference in total defense last season.
Second-team preseason All-MEAC quarterback Larry Brihm Jr. is back to lead Bethune Cookman, a team picked fourth after a surging second-half of 2016 erased an ugly start. Brihm, the third-ranked passer in the MEAC last year, will throw to Jawil Davis, a third-team preseason All-MEAC pick.
Anthony Philyaw, the second-leading rusher in the MEAC last season, returns for Howard (picked to finish ninth) and has been chosen as the MEAC’s preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Philyaw rushed for 1,230 yards and nine touchdowns for Howard, a team that has the conference’s second-best rushing offense but had severe problems on defense in 2016.
Here is the full order of finish predictions and the entire preseason All-MEAC first, second and third teams:
1) North Carolina Central
2) North Carolina A&T
3) South Carolina State
4) Bethune Cookman
6) Florida A&M
7) Norfolk State
8) Morgan State
10) Savannah State
11) Delaware State
All MEAC First Team Offense
QB Lamar Raynard Jr. North Carolina A&T State High Point, N.C.
RB Anthony Philyaw Sr. Howard Los Angeles, Calif.
RB* Yahkee Johnson Sr. Hampton Richmond, Va.
RB* Ramone Simpson Jr. N.C. Central Wilmington, N.C.
WR Elijah Bell So. North Carolina A&T State Wheeling, W. Va.
WR* Brandon Norwood Sr. Florida A&M Atlanta, Ga.
WR* Frank Brown Sr. Bethune-Cookman Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
TE Leroy Hill Jr. North Carolina A&T State Smithfield, N.C.
C Darriel Mack Sr. North Carolina A&T State Clio, S.C
OL Brandon Parker Sr. North Carolina A&T State Kannapolis, N.C.
OL Nick Leverett So. N.C. Central Concord, N.C.
OL Robbie Stephenson Sr. S.C. State Fairburn, Ga.
OL Justin Evans Sr. S.C. State Florence, S.C.
PK Uriel Hernandez Jr. Bethune-Cookman Homestead, Fla.
First Team Defense
DL* Kevin Thompson R-Sr. Bethune-Cookman Baltimore, Md.
DL* Chris Lee Sr. Norfolk State Woodbridge, Va.
DL Ja’Quan Smith Gr. N.C. Central Miramar, Fla.
DL Antonio Brown Sr. N.C. Central Jacksonville, Fla.
LB Darius Leonard R-Sr. S.C. State Lake View, S.C.
LB Dayshawn Taylor R-Sr. S.C. State Lincolnton, Ga.
LB Reggie Hunter Sr. N.C. Central Henderson, N.C.
DB Alden McClellon Jr. N.C. Central Lake Butler, Fla.
DB* Jason Baxter Gr. S.C. State Manning, S.C.
DB* Diquan Richardson Sr. Bethune-Cookman Alvin, S.C.
DB Zerius Lockhart Sr. North Carolina A&T State Auburn, Ala.
P Nathaniel Tilque Sr. N.C. Central Charlotte, N.C.
RS Khris Gardin Sr. North Carolina A&T State Morganton, N.C.
Second Team Offense
QB Larry Brihm, Jr. Sr. Bethune-Cookman Delray Beach, Fla.
RB Herb Walker, Jr. Sr. Morgan State Cleveland, Ohio
RB Mike Waters So. Delaware State Philadelphia, Pa.
WR Kyle Anthony So. Howard Miami, Fla.
WR Mason Rutherford Sr. Delaware State San Bernardino, Calif.
TE Demetrius Ferebee Sr. Norfolk State Roanoke, Va.
C Victor Ishmael, Jr. Sr. S.C. State Miami, Fla.
OL Osman Aguilera Sr. Florida A&M Miami, Fla.
OL Loubens Polinice So. Florida A&M Palm Coast, Fla.
OL Joshua Fala So. Delaware State Manteca, Calif.
OL Cade Pedro So. Delaware State Kailua, Hawai’i
PK Tyler Scandrett Sr. S.C. State Barnesville, Ga.
Second Team Defense
DL Steven Smith Sr. Hampton Norfolk, Va.
DL* Jai Franklin Sr. Morgan State Clinton, Md.
DL* Greg Newell Sr. S.C. State McDonough, Ga.
DL Julian McKnight Jr. North Carolina A&T State Conyers, Ga.
LB Trenton Bridges Jr. Bethune-Cookman DeLand, Fla.
LB* Malik Harris Sr. Delaware State Washington, D.C.
LB* Marcus Albert Jr. North Carolina A&T State College Park, Ga.
DB Brendan Cole Sr. Hampton Hampton, Va.
DB Orlando McKinley Jr. Florida A&M Atlanta, Ga.
DB Terry Jefferson So. Florida A&M Miami, Fla.
DB Devondre Powell Sr. S.C. State Miami, Fla.
P Uriel Hernandez Jr. Bethune-Cookman Homestead, Fla.
RS Frank Brown Sr. Bethune-Cookman Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Third Team Defense
QB Ryan Stanley So. Florida A&M Pembroke Pines, Fla.
RB Dorrel McClain Jr. N.C. Central Cary, N.C.
RB Brycen Alleyne Jr. Delaware State Wilmington, Del.
WR Jalen Wilkes Jr. N.C. Central Greenville, S.C.
WR Jawill Davis Sr. Bethune-Cookman Miami, Fla.
TE Desmond Noird Sr. Florida A&M Atlanta, Ga.
C Phillip Norman Sr. Bethune-Cookman Sebastian, Fla.
OL Obinna Nwanko So. Florida A&M Miramar, Fla.
PK Wizdom Nzidee Sr. Delaware State Stone Mountain, Ga.
Third Team Defense
DL* Stefen Banks Jr. Savannah State Columbus, Ohio
DL* Elijah Price Sr. Florida A&M Jacksonville, Fla.
DL* Kenneth Melton Sr. North Carolina A&T State Elizabeth City, N.C.
DL Tyberius Cravens Sr. S.C. State Austell, Ga.
LB Kyle Archie Sr. Norfolk State Virginia Beach, Va.
LB Mulik Simmons Sr. Savannah State Savannah, Ga.
LB Brian Cavicante So. Delaware State Portsmouth, Va.
DB Carl Garnes Jr. Morgan State Columbus, N.J.
DB Keyjuan Selby Jr. Delaware State Bear, Del.
DB Darius Johnson Jr. Morgan State Baltimore, Md.
DB Davanta Reynolds Jr. N.C. Central Tucker, Ga.
P Fidel Romo-Martinez So. Delaware State Banning, Calif.
RS William King Jr. Morgan State Baltimore, Md