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Players, coaches work to shut out the noise as hype runs high for Aggie-Eagle Classic

Bragging rights are on the line for popular rivalry game between North Carolina A&T and North Carolina Central

More than 100 years have passed since North Carolina A&T State University defeated North Carolina Central University 26-0 in what would later become the Aggie-Eagle Classic. Now, the storied rivalry game, which will return Saturday, is considered a can’t-miss event by fans of both teams.

“I’ve been religiously attending the Aggie-Eagle Classic games since 2012,” said Stacey Hart, a 1993 graduate of North Carolina Central. “The vibes of that matchup are like none other. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

The Aggies made their CAA debut in a 35-6 loss to the University of Alabama at Birmingham on Aug. 31. North Carolina A&T struggled in its season opener, throwing the ball only eight times and completing just two passes.

New North Carolina A&T head coach Vincent Brown hopes his team can bounce back from the Week 1 loss heading into the Aggie-Eagle Classic. He said they will not get too worked up over a single game, even if it is one of the most highly anticipated games of the season.

“Since I got here, everyone’s spoken about the importance of this game,” Brown said Monday during the Aggies’ weekly news conference. “We want to win and understand the importance of winning this game, but our program will not be defined by one game.”

Aggies redshirt sophomore running back Wesley Graves is expected to have a significant role in the backfield, especially after the transfer of former North Carolina A&T running back Bhayshul Tuten to Virginia Tech.

Graves acknowledged the Aggie-Eagle Classic is one of the more critical matchups on the team’s 11-game schedule but said the preparation is the same, regardless of who the team faces.

“This game means a lot to me because it’s not just for us, it’s for A&T as a whole,” Graves told Andscape. “As a team, we know how much this rivalry means. But at the end of the day, it’s another football game. We always practice hard and prepare physically and mentally to do all we can to win.”

The matchup will be the third game between the two schools since North Carolina A&T left the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in 2021. Some Aggies alumni believe the competitive nature that came with consistently playing historically Black colleges and universities is not the same in other conferences.

“It was a sad day when we left the MEAC,” said Erica Belton, a 2008 North Carolina A&T graduate. “I was a wet-nosed freshman when we won the MEAC in 2003, and I remember talking pure trash to the other HBCUs in the conference. A&T will always hold a cocky torch, but the university took the fun out of our obnoxious cockiness.”

North Carolina Central is still in the MEAC and coming off one of its best seasons after winning the Cricket Celebration Bowl in December for the first time in program history. The Eagles are entering the Classic with bragging rights after defeating the Aggies 28-13 last season.

North Carolina Central senior defensive back Brandon Codrington earned MEAC specialist of the week honors after his performance Saturday in the Eagles’ 47-21 victory over Winston-Salem State, where he returned three punts for 98 yards, including an 81-yard return for a touchdown.

Despite the anticipation for the Aggie-Eagle Classic, Codrington said he advises younger players to pay no attention to outside noise and remain focused on the task at hand: winning the game.

“I tell them to ignore social media,” Codrington said Monday at the Eagles’ weekly newss conference. “Let the game speak for itself. Hopefully, when the zeroes hit the clock, we’ll get the outcome we’re looking for.”

Despite North Carolina A&T’s struggles against UAB, North Carolina Central head coach Trei Oliver expects a hard-fought game from A&T, where he was an assistant coach.

“Obviously, with this being a rivalry, they’re gonna come to the game jacked up and ready to roll,” Oliver said. “We’ll have to develop a game plan and execute at a very high level. They’ll be a completely different team.”

The Eagles will travel to Greensboro, North Carolina, where Aggies fans are expected to pack Truist Stadium for the team’s first home game of the season. However, Oliver believes the crowd won’t affect his squad.

“We’re battle-tested, and our guys don’t care,” Oliver said. “It doesn’t matter where we play — put the ball down, and we’ll be ready to roll. It will be a great crowd, and Eagle Nation will also pack it out.

“It’ll be a good environment and great atmosphere. But that’s why you come to these schools, so that you can participate in games like this.”

Students and alumni are also looking forward to performances by the university bands, North Carolina A&T’s Blue and Gold Marching Machine and North Carolina Central’s Sound Machine.

“The band represents the second competition for any HBCU football game,” said Jimmy Belton, a 1983 graduate of North Carolina A&T. “The drum majors are the quarterbacks, and the drum lines are like a football team’s offensive and defensive lines on a football team. The band performance is almost as big as the game.”

Kamryn Jackson, a 2024 Rhoden Fellow, is a senior multimedia journalism major from Prince George’s County, Maryland. In the fall she will serve as the managing editor of The A&T Register and president of Associated Sports Press Editors. Her favorite sport to play is volleyball, and her favorite sport to watch is basketball.