CHARLOTTE, N.C. – In the words of Boyz II Men, it’s so hard to say goodbye.
North Carolina A&T announced its switch from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) to the Big South Conference in February 2020.
So the new members of the conference were the headliners of this year’s Big South football media day for the eight teams that will play in the league.
The Aggies, representing the MEAC, were the four-time champions of the Celebration Bowl, which they last won in December 2019, defeating Alcorn State 64-44 for their third straight title.
“I had some great memories in the MEAC,” said A&T head coach Sam Washington. “But looking forward, I’m really excited about what the Big South has to bring for us.”
Running back Jah-Maine Martin was the only A&T player selected to the preseason all-conference first team on offense and was on the Associated Press FCS All-American second team in 2018.
“I think this is a great opportunity,” said Martin. “We dominated the MEAC, so now it’s time to come here and leave our footprint in the Big South.”
Washington hopes that this change will bring other historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to the conference, as Hampton intended when it joined in 2018.
Hampton head coach Robert Prunty and Washington are looking forward to playing each other in the fall and promoting HBCU football. The last time the schools played each other in 2016, both were MEAC teams. Their matchup on Oct. 23 will be the first time Prunty and Washington face each other as head coaches.
“I’m excited because A&T has a great program,” said Prunty. “They got a great coach in Sam Washington, great players, and the administration does a great job.”
The Big South did have a spring football season with seven teams participating, with Hampton being the only team that did not play.
Despite finishing fifth in the last full season in 2019, the Pirates are excited about getting back on the field, especially against one of their historic rivals.
“It feels good to be back after being away from the game,” said wide receiver Jadakis Bonds.
The conference coaches voted Monmouth as the projected top team this season, while A&T was expected to finish third and Hampton seventh. Monmouth running back Juwon Farri was named preseason offensive player of the year, and defensive back Anthony Budd was named preseason defensive player of the year.
Martin was joined on the preseason first team by defensive lineman Jermaine McDaniel and linebacker Kyin Howard.
The Aggies open Big South play against Robert Morris on Oct. 2 and Hampton opens league play against Kennesaw State on Oct. 9.