2018 NCCU Partial Football Season Preview
By KYLE SERBA
The conclusion of last season was the first time since 2013 that North Carolina Central University was not celebrating a MEAC football championship. After a 5-1 start to earn a No. 25 national ranking, the Eagles dropped three of their final five games.
That disappointment has served as fuel for the NCCU football program during the offseason. After Jerry Mack departed Durham to become the offensive coordinator at Rice University, defensive coordinator Granville Eastman took the reins as interim head coach for the 2018 campaign.
With 10 returning starters (7 offense, 3 defense), Eastman has the Eagles refocused on the championship prize and a trip to Atlanta for the Celebration Bowl.
Looking Back at 2017: The Pros
“It was a team that won a lot of football games, certainly won more than they lost, so I think that speaks to the winning culture we have established,” said Eastman. “I think that is a good takeaway. You can see that there’s a foundation there. In addition to that, a handful of young players were able to grow up, primarily on the offensive of side of the ball.”
Looking Back at 2017: The Cons
“Unfortunately, we displayed that we can still find ways to lose football games,” said Eastman. “And I don’t mean any disrespect to our opponents, but there were a couple of opportunities that we let slip away. That was largely due to the fact that we were out of character as far as being disciplined. We allowed some things to happen that we did not let happen before. We did not check our blind spots, and it got us.”
Did the way the season ended shape the mindset going into the off-season?
“Absolutely,” said Eastman. “One critical lesson is that you can lose to anybody on any given day if the complete effort, discipline and commitment is not there. I think guys also started to understand about accountability. About being the best you can and how really slim opportunities are. Coach Mack used to always say ‘It’s tough to win a football game.’ I think they finally realized that it is tough because we certainly had a couple slip away, and that put us out of what our goals were for last year.”
Expectations for 2018 Season
“We want to compete for a MEAC championship, without question,” said Eastman. “I want people to say that NCCU is a well-coached team, they’re very disciplined and they play hard. If people make those kind of remarks about our young men and our program, then everything else will take care of itself.
Keys to Success
“Team chemistry has to come together,” said Eastman. “Unless we build on one another and support one another, we are going to have a tough time. Discipline, no question. And just staying motivated.”
Theme of ‘One Family, One Team’
“We are trying to create a culture around our motto of ‘One Family, One Team,’” said Eastman. “We’re trying to build a team with family bonds. Where there is respect, trust, belief and loyalty. You look at any tight-knit family, you are going to find those bonds – respect, trust, belief and loyalty. If we can build our team with those bonds, then discipline will come out of respect and trust. That’s what we’re really trying to establish.”
“On the defensive side, I think our defensive line will still be active. We lost some really good All-MEAC producers, but we have just enough seasoning up there to be chaotic and make things tough for our competitors. As they go, we’ll go on defense, as always has been the case. On the offensive side, I think our running backs and our receiving corps are going to be a handful. There’s talent there all over the place. The tight ends are well-coached, big, long, physical, and know what to do. They can really give us some favorable mismatches.”
Returning Starters: 3 (DB Davanta Reynolds, DE Kawuan Cox, DB De’Mario Evans)
Coaches: Granville Eastman (interim head coach/defensive coordinator/safeties), Kenyatta McCoy (cornerbacks), Jason Blalock (linebackers), Jon Bradley (defensive line), Chris Schultz (defensive assistant)
2017 NCAA Division I-FCS Rankings
#2 - Third Down Conversion Defense (24.5%) - #1 in MEAC
#16 - Team Sacks (2.91 per game) - #2 in MEAC
#17 – Red Zone Defense (72.4%) - #3 in MEAC
#18 - Rushing Defense (111.4 yards allowed per game) - #3 in MEAC
#19 - Defensive Touchdowns (3) - #3 in MEAC
#21 - Scoring Defense (19.2 points per game) - #3 in MEAC
#22 - Total Defense (318.4 yards allowed per game) - #3 in MEAC
#22 - First Downs Defense (188) - #4 in MEAC
#38 - Team Tackles for Loss (6.7 per game) - #5 in MEAC
“What past history has shown is every time we have played together defensively with a certain level of purpose and conviction, we’ve always been able to do the necessary work to help our team have success,” said Eastman, entering his fifth season as defensive coordinator at NCCU. “I think these guys really fit that mold.”
“If we can stay healthy, we’ll be very productive - no different than we have been in the past,” said Eastman. “I expect some young men like Cam’Ron Perkins and Miles Turmon to come on. Khalid Blount is going to be a solid player for us. We’ve got some good defensive ends. Kawuan Cox has been very productive and we expect him to have a big year for us, along with Randy Anyanwu and Tavon Lofties. We should be as disruptive as we have been in the past.”
Kawuan Cox (Jr., 6-2, 230, Summerville, S.C.): Started all 11 games at defensive end, was voted to All-MEAC First Team, and was announced to 11th annual BOXTOROW All-America Team, honoring the top 29 players in HBCU football. Tied for second in MEAC with a team-high 8.0 sacks for 42 yards lost and three forced fumbles, while collecting 43 total tackles (27 solo), five quarterback hurries, two pass break-ups and an interception returned six yards for a touchdown (at Hampton, Nov. 4).
Randy Anyanwu (R-Sr., 6-3, 250, Lovejoy, Ga.): Played in 10 games, including 4 as a starter on the defensive line. He recorded 30 tackles, including 5.5 hits for a loss with 2 assisted sacks, along with 2 pass deflections, and was ccounted for a team-high 7 quarterback hurries. Closed out season with back-to-back season-high efforts of 6 tackles versus Bethune-Cookman (Nov. 11) and at North Carolina A&T (Nov. 18).
Tavon Lofties (Jr., 6-5, 250, Baltimore, Md.): Played in 10 games in 2017. Collected 20 tackles (10 solo), including 4.0 hits for a loss with 2.5 sacks.
Khalid Blount (R-So., 6-1, 320, Washington, Pa.): Transfer from Duquesne University, recording 5 tackles in 10 games as a freshman in 2016.
Miles Turmon (So., 6-0, 290, Easley, S.C.): Played in 4 games as a true freshman in 2017. Registered 2 solo tackles at Duke (Sept. 2).
Cam’Ron Perkins (So., 6-0, 280, Eden, N.C.): Appeared in 3 games as a true freshman in 2017. Collected 2 tackles (1 solo), both coming in his first game at Duke (Sept. 2).
“We are going to have to wait and see,” said Eastman. “Branden Bailey had a good spring, King Kiaku is a reliable player for us, and some of the younger players are going to have to come on and show what they can do. We have a little growing to do at linebacker, but I feel confident those guys love to run and hit, and they are football players through and through.”
King Kiaku (R-Sr., 5-10, 240, Apex, N.C.): Played in 6 games as a redshirt junior, and accumulated a total of 10 tackles, including 5 solo.
Branden Bailey (So., 6-0, 235, Deerfield Beach, Fla.): Appeared in all 11 games as a true freshman in 2017. Recorded 13 tackles, including
Patrick Connor (R-Fr., 6-0, 240, Greensboro, N.C.): Redshirt in 2017. As a senior at Dudley High School in 2016 he was named all-conference, all-region and all-state with 166 tackles and 8 sacks, helping to lead team to NCHSAA 4A State Championship.
Jerome Foster (R-Fr., 6-0, 210, Greenville, S.C.): Redshirt in 2017. As a senior at Greenville High School he recorded 80 tackles, 4 interceptions, 4 forced fumbles and 3 fumble recoveries to earn a selection as a South Carolina North-South All-Star.
“We are seasoned back there,” said Eastman. “We have some young men with quite a bit of playing experience. They are going to have to step up and have a big year for us to be able to achieve the goals we are aiming to have.”
Davanta Reynolds (R-Sr., 5-10, 200, Tucker, Ga.): Started 10 games at safety, was voted First-Team All-MEAC, named Associated Press FCS All-American as a member of the Third Team. In addition, he was announced to 11th annual BOXTOROW All-America Team, honoring the top 29 players in HBCU football. Tied for second in the nation (FCS) with conference-high 6 interceptions for 141 return yards and a touchdown (31-yard TD), while also returning a fumble 85 yards for a touchdown (featured on ESPN Top-10 Plays). Tallied 54 tackles (35 solo), including 2.5 stops for a loss with a sack, along with a forced fumble and a pass break-up.
De’Mario Evans (R-Sr., 6-0, 175, Columbia, S.C.): Started all 11 games in 2017, finished with 28 tackles (24 solo), 5 pass break-ups and 1 interception for an 18-yard return.
Jaquell Taylor (Sr., 6-1, 185, Raleigh, N.C.): Played in 9 games, including 2 as a starter, in 2017, and recorded 11 tackles and 2 pass break-ups. As a sophomore in 2016, Jaquelle amassed 52 tackles, including 3.5 hits for a loss, with two pass break-ups, an interception and a forced fumble.
Anthony Sherrill (R-Jr., 5-11, 180, Cornelius, N.C.): Played in 10 games. Recorded 20 tackles (11 solo) with an assisted stop for a loss and a pass break-up.
Marcus Martin (So., 5-11, 190, Miami, Fla.): Appeared in all 11 games as a true freshman. Collected 2 solo tackles, including a takedown at Duke (Sept. 2) in first college contest.
Returning Starters: 7 (OT Nick Leverett, RB Isaiah Totten, TE Josh McCoy, OL Marley Conley, OL Andrew Dale, WR Xavier McKoy, QB Chauncey Caldwell)
Coaches: T.C. Taylor (offensive coordinator/assistant head coach), Jason Onyebuagu (co-offensive coordinator/offensive line), Jordan Reid (running backs), Graham Hobbs (quarterbacks), Marcus Windham (wide receivers), Bobby Turner (tight ends), Darius Dobson (offensive assistant)
2017 NCAA Division I-FCS Rankings
#8 - Turnovers Lost (12) - #2 in MEAC
#9 - Passes Had Intercepted (6) - #1 in MEAC
#24 - Fumbles Lost (6) - #4 in MEAC
#43 - Fourth Down Conversion Percentage (50%) - #6 in MEAC
“That’s where chemistry has the most room to grow,” said Eastman about the Eagles’ offense. “We have some new pieces. On the offensive line, we have been trying to work some different combinations. We are trying to put all of those pieces into the mix and getting everybody on the same page. If we can get the chemistry going, we will be a force offensively. We will certainly be significantly better than we were last year.”
“We are trying to have some competition at quarterback,” said Eastman. “No one has completely won it outright, but I am not afraid to say that Chauncey Caldwell is leading the way. He has shown himself to be a leader in every facet. I am really pleased with his development. Naiil Ramadan is a competitor and I give him all of the credit because he is always ready and available to come in and show what he can do. I expect Naiil to be in the conversation for the starting job. Dominique Shoffner continues to get better and better every time he goes into the weight room and every time he takes the field. I am really pleased with the way he carries himself and what he has shown with his opportunities at quarterback. Micah Zanders is coming off a shoulder injury. We will have to see how his development goes.”
Chauncey Caldwell (So., 6-2, 225, Durham, N.C.): Appeared in all 11 games, including 8 as the starting quarterback. He passed for a team-best 1,411 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaged 128.3 passing yards per game, and completed 115 of 214 passes (53.7%) with a pass efficiency rating of 121.7. Caldwell ranked second on the team with 495 rushing yards, averaging 45.0 ground yards per game and 3.9 yards per carry, and tied for team lead with 5 rushing touchdowns. Threw for a season-best 333 yards versus Gardner-Webb (Oct. 14).
Naiil Ramadan (R-Jr., 6-0, 190, Charlotte, N.C.): Appeared in 5 games in 2017, completed 27 of 44 passes (61.4%) for 324 yards and 4 touchdowns, and rushed for 17 yards and a touchdown. Threw for a season-high 236 yards and 2 touchdowns on 21-for-35 passing, while also rushing for a touchdown, versus Norfolk State (Oct. 21). Came off the bench in the fourth quarter versus S.C. State (Sept. 21 on ESPNU) and threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to rally the Eagles for a victory.
Micah Zanders (Jr., 6-2, 200, Jacksonville, Fla.): Started first 3 games of first campaign at NCCU in 2017, before suffering a season-ending injury versus South Carolina State (Oct. 21), completed 25 of 46 passes for 257 yards, and rushed for 49 yards on 18 carries.
Dominique Shoffner (Fr., 6-0, 210, Apex, N.C.): Redshirt in 2017, combined for 3,400 total yards of offense and 51 touchdowns as a senior at Middle Creek High School, completed 203 of 309 passes for 2,952 yards, 38 touchdowns and six interceptions, while adding 448 yards rushing with 13 touchdowns.
“We look real strong at the running back position,” said Eastman. “No doubt they are led by Isaiah Totten. He has been a very productive runner for us. We look for him to bring the same level of leadership, consistency and workman-like conduct to his game, which reflects what we like to do. Torri Cotton has come along after being banged up. He seems fresh. He’s had some playing experience, so we know we can count on him.”
Isaiah Totten (R-So., 5-9, 185, Apex, N.C.): Played in all 11 games, including six as the starting running back, voted to All-MEAC Second Team, ranked fifth in MEAC with 65.3 rushing yards per game and third with an average of 5.7 yards per carry. Totaled a team-high 718 rushing yards with five touchdowns, including the 10th-longest run in NCCU history with an 81-yard touchdown at Duke (Sept. 2).
Torri Cotton (R-So., 5-8, 160, Panama City Beach, Fla.): Rushed for 201 yards (3.8 avg.) in first college season in 2016. “Torri did some really good things for us in certain situations last year. He was overshadowed at times by Ramone and Dorrel, but there’s no doubt he can be an explosive player for our football team.”
“The addition of Daeshawn Stephens and Sonnie Richardson has really bolstered our receiving corps. Those guys bring experience and confidence,” said Eastman. “Nique Martin had a great spring. He really matured and grew up as a receiver. Chance Kennedy got significantly better. E.J. Hicks is having a tremendous off-season. Marvin Zanders’ ability to do multiple things will be a factor, and of course, the return of Xavier McKoy. So I feel really good about our receiving corps. They are all playmakers. If we can get them the ball, they will be able to impact some games for us.”
Xavier McKoy (Jr., 6-3, 195, Charlotte, N.C.): Played in all 11 games, including 7 as a starter, ranked third on the team with 18 receptions for 276 yards and 2 touchdowns, and averaged 15.3 yards per catch. Amassed 139 receiving yards on just 3 catches versus Gardner-Webb (Oct. 14), including an 89-yard touchdown grab for the third-longest reception in NCCU history.
Nique Martin (So., 6-1, 190, Winston-Salem, N.C.): Appeared in 7 games with 1 start at wide receiver, collected 8 receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown, and averaged 13.6 yards per reception.
Chance Kennedy (R-So., 5-7, 165, Charlotte, N.C.): Appeared in 6 games, collected 3 receptions for 29 yards, averaging 9.7 yards per catch, with a long of 16 yards.
E.J. Hicks (R-Fr., 5-11, 160, Rolesville, N.C.): Played in first game of the season at Duke, but missed the rest of the campaign due to injury. Had 1 reception for 13 yards at Duke (Sept. 2).
Daeshawn Stephens (R-So., 6-2, 190, Durham, N.C.): Spent the past two seasons (2016-17) at North Carolina State University, appearing in 10 games last year after redshirting during the 2016 campaign. He signed with the Wolfpack after a stellar career at Hillside High School, amassing 71 receptions for 989 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior. He was a high school teammate with NCCU quarterback Chauncey Caldwell, helping to lead Hillside to a 10-3 record and the N.C. 4A state quarterfinals in 2015.
Sonnie Richardson (Jr., 5-9, 185, Raleigh, N.C.): Registered 74 receptions for 848 yards and 9 touchdowns as a sophomore at Mesa Community College in 2017 to earn NJCAA All-America Honorable Mention recognition. As a senior at Leesville Road High School in 2014, he led the team with 1,068 receiving yards on 58 catches for 11 touchdowns, averaging 118.7 yards per game and 18.4 yards per reception.
Marvin Zanders (R-Sr., 6-2, 205, Jacksonville, Fla.): Spent three seasons (2014-16) at the University of Missouri. In 2016, he completed 10-of-12 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown, while rushing 35 times for 198 yards and two scores for the Tigers. As a senior at Raines High School in 2013, amassed more than 2,500 yards of total offense, and was responsible for 37 touchdowns, completing 130-of-224 passes for 1,866 yards and 22 touchdowns, while rushing for 705 yards and 15 more scores. Older brother of current NCCU quarterback Micah Zanders.
“If you study us closely, you’ll see we are well-positioned at tight end,” said Eastman. “We have four young men (Josh McCoy, Xavier Crandall, Zach Kellum, Sherman McLeod) who all bring different skill sets to the position as far as blocking, running routes and catching. We’ve got a good thing going on at tight end, with some talent and competition. I expect big things from those guys.”
Josh McCoy (Sr., 6-3, 230, Sharon, S.C.): Voted to All-MEAC Second Team, he collected 11 receptions for 121 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 11.0 yards per catch. His three touchdown grabs were second-most on the squad.
Xavier Crandall (R-Jr., 6-2, 230, Landover, Md.): Appeared in 10 games in 2017, his first season at NCCU as a transfer from Lackawanna.
Zach Kellum (R-Fr., 6-3, 245, Winston-Salem, N.C.): Redshirt in 2017. He was highly recruited out of East Forsyth High School. Two-time all-conference and all-area. He recorded 29 catches with 471 yards and eight touchdowns as a senior, averaging 16.2 yards per catch.
Sherman McLeod (R-Fr., 6-2, 225, Raleigh, N.C.): Redshirt in 2017 out of Southeast Raleigh High School.
“We’re a little more grown up,” said Eastman. “We’ve been able to assemble a good number of bodies and our chemistry should be better than last year. If they work collectively as a group then we’ll have some success. A lot is going to hinge on how far these young men have come. We had some struggles across the offensive line last year. Some of it was due to injury, and some of it was due to youth. We are one year more mature, so we expect some of those mistakes to be taken care of. They are going to play a very important part of how we end up performing.”
Nick Leverett (R-Jr., 6-4, 300, Concord, N.C.): Started all 11 games at tackle. Voted to All-MEAC Second Team. In 738 plays, graded out at a team-best 90 percent with 52 pancake blocks and allowed just three sacks.
Andrew Dale (R-So., 6-2, 280, Morehead City, N.C.): Started all 11 games in 2017 as a redshirt freshman, and allowed just 1 sack in 614 plays with 37 pancake blocks and a blocking grade of 84%.
Marley Conley (Sr., 6-5, 280, Fayetteville, N.C.): Started 10 of 11 games at tackle, was voted to All-MEAC Second Team, and in 749 plays, graded out at 87 percent with 43 pancake blocks and surrendering just three sacks.
Malik Riddick-Reynolds (So., 6-5, 360, Sanford, N.C.): Played in 9 games as a true freshman in 2017.
Qorticha Glenn (So., 6-3, 320, Winston-Salem, N.C.): Appeared in 8 games as a true freshman in 2017.
Stewart Boyd (R-Jr., 6-1, 290, Miramar, Fla.): Played in 9 games, including 2 as a starter, in 2017.
Somadina Okezie-Okeke (R-Fr., 6-3, 300, Woodstock, Ga.): Redshirt in 2017. Rated 2-Star recruit by 247sports.com and named to 6A All-Region Second Team at River Ridge High School.
Returning Starters: 1 (LS Erik Schlecker)
Coordinator: Chris Schultz
2017 NCAA Division I-FCS Rankings
#25 – Punt Return Defense (5.05 yards allowed per return) - #2 in MEAC
“Special teams were not up to par last year,” said Eastman. “We have to do a better job on kickoff return, and we have to make better decisions on punt return. We worked very hard this spring in all areas of special teams. Our mindset is right on the importance of special teams.”
“People tend to forget about the long snapper until the ball sails over somebody’s head,” said Eastman. Erik Schlecker has been recognized as a preseason FCS All-American. I give him all of the credit. He has worked hard at his craft. He really works out like a linebacker. He loves getting downfield and making tackles as equally as he loves zipping the ball back to the punter and holder.”
Erik Schlecker (Sr., 6-0, 230, Sunrise, Fla.): Named to the HERO Sports 2018 FCS Preseason All-American Team (Third Team), he has achieved a 99 percent success rate on his snaps with only one errant snap in the past two seasons at NCCU, and boasts a snap time average of 0.75 seconds.
“Jonathan De Lucca and Adam Lippy will compete for the place-kicking duties,” said Eastman. “I am really pleased with Adam’s development. De Lucca is a young man that we have been told has a heavy leg. He can drive the ball.”
Adam Lippy (R-Fr., 6-0, 205, Tucker, Ga.): Redshirt in 2017.
Jonathan De Lucca (Fr., 5-11, 175, Orlando, Fla.): Kicked 51-yard field goal as a senior at Boone High School, and ranked as No. 43 kicker in the nation (class of 2018) by Kohl’s camps.
“John Pecaro comes highly recommended,” said Eastman.
John Pecaro (Jr., 5-11, 175, Boynton Beach, Fla.): Named second team all-conference at Los Angeles Pierce College in 2017, averaging 35.9 yards per punt with 6 downed inside the 20-yard line.