North Carolina Central ranks No. 13 in HERO Sports’ FCS Preseason Top 25.
The Eagles beat Jackson State 41-34 in last season’s Celebration Bowl to finish 10-2 overall.
Here’s a look at this year’s NC Central football squad.
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Returning 2022 FCS All-Conference Players (12)
QB Davius Richard
RB Latrell Collier
OL Torricelli Simpkins III
S Khalil Baker
K Adrian Olivo
WR Devin Smith
DL Jaden Taylor
LB Jaki Brevard
S Manny Smith
RB J’Mari Taylor
DL Christian Smith
RS Brandon Codrington
Players In 2023 FCS Positional Rankings (5)
Transfer Portal Movement
Transfers Lost To The FBS (1)
Corey Bullock (OL) to Maryland
Transfers Lost To The FCS (1)
Treveyon Pratt (WR) to Morgan State
Transfers Coming In From The FBS (2)
Miles Campbell (TE), Tennessee
Eli Adams (DL), Virginia Tech
Transfers Coming In From The FCS (3)
Karfa Kaba (DL), North Carolina A&T
Trey Richburg (OL), ETSU
Andrew Nickens (OL), Norfolk State
NC Central returns 12 of 17 All-MEAC performers from last year, including the MEAC Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year.
Davius Richard is one of the best-returning quarterbacks in the FCS, leading an offense that finished No. 5 in the subdivision with 38.6 points per game. Richard completed 63.9% of his passes (199/311) for 2,661 yards, 25 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions while leading the team with 788 yards and 15 scores on the ground, earning the MEAC Offensive Player of the Year Award.
The Eagles lose its top wide receiver E.J. Hicks (613 yards, 7 TDs), but they return the next four WRs: Second Team All-MEAC Devin Smith (38 catches, 509 yards, 6 TDs), Quentin McCall (18 catches, 331 yards, 4 TDs), Andrew Smith (21 catches, 302 yards, 1 TD), and Joaquin Davis (25 catches, 291 yards, 2 TDs).
NC Central notably added Tennessee transfer TE Miles Campbell this offseason, a four-star prospect rated as the No. 11 tight end in the country in the class of 2021.
All-MEAC First Team running back Latrell Collier is back after rushing 138 times for 709 yards and seven scores. Third Team All-Conference RB J’Mari Taylor is also back, adding 427 yards and seven TDs on 86 carries last year.
The offensive line loses two All-Conference performers: Robert Mitchell to the pros, and Corey Bullock to Maryland. But All-MEAC First Team selection Torricelli Simpkins III returns to lead the 2023 unit.
NC Central brings back its top 10 tacklers after ranking No. 20 in FCS scoring defense (21.5 points allowed per game).
Khalil Baker and Manny Smith form an elite safety duo, leading the Eagles with 61 tackles each. Baker added two tackles for loss, four interceptions, and five pass breakups to be named the MEAC Defensive Player of the Year. Smith, a multi-time All-MEAC selection, also had four TFLs, one sack, four pass breakups, and two forced fumbles.
Linebacker Max U’Ren is coming off of a strong 2022 season, totaling 59 tackles and five TFLs. Fellow LB Jaki Brevard had an All-MEAC 2022 campaign with 48 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, three sacks, and three pass breakups.
Defensive backs Kole Jones (44 tackles), Isaiah Lawson (41 tackles), and JaJuan Hudson (33 tackles) are also back and were the No. 5, 6, and 7 tacklers last fall. Jason Chambers added 25 stops in the secondary to finish inside the Top 10 in team tackles.
Jaden Taylor and Christian Smith will lead the defensive line following All-MEAC seasons. Taylor had 32 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, and one sack. Smith added 25 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, and 1.5 sacks.
Last year’s squad became the third team in school history to win 10 games in a season, highlighted by the overtime Celebration Bowl win and beating FCS playoff participant New Hampshire 45-27 in September. NC Central won its first MEAC football championship since 2016 and its fourth HBCU national championship (1954, 2005, and 2006).
9/2 vs Winston-Salem State
9/9 at North Carolina A&T
9/16 at UCLA
9/23 Mississippi Valley State (in Indianapolis, IN)
9/30 vs Campbell
10/7 at RV Elon
10/21 at Morgan State
10/28 vs South Carolina State
11/4 vs Norfolk State
11/11 at Howard
11/18 vs Delaware State
HERO Sports’ rankings
RV = Received Votes
Bold indicates MEAC games