By Kyle Serba Deputy Athletics Director for External Affairs North Carolina Central University
2022 NC Central Football Season Preview
The 2022 North Carolina Central University football team welcomes the return of 15 starters from last year’s squad that captured the MEAC/SWAC Challenge championship and won three straight games to end the season as the MEAC runner-up with a 4-1 conference record and a 6-5 overall mark.
NCCU head coach Trei Oliver enters his fourth year at the helm of his alma mater.
Returning Starters: 8 (QB Davius Richard, OL Corey Bullock, OL Kideam Diouf, OL Chris Escalera, OL Da’Quan Thomas, OL Torricelli Simpkins III, WR Devin Smith, WR Andrew Smith).
Coaches: Matt Leone (offensive coordinator/quarterbacks), Cedric Williams (run game coordinator/offensive line), Kevin Maurice (running backs), Pete Bennett (wide receivers), Tony Spencer (tight ends).
Oliver’s Analysis: “Those guys battle and compete every day. ‘Pee Wee’ (Davius Richard) has been the starter, but Walker Harris and Quest Powell come to work every day to compete for that position. It’s good to see them compete, but at the same time, they’re really good friends off the field too. Pee Wee is obviously the starter, but I feel we can win with Walker and Quest, as well.”
Players to Watch:
Davius Richard (Jr., 6-3, 200, Belle Glade, Fla.): “Davius is one of the hardest workers on the team. He’s a field general. He doesn’t say a whole lot, but when he talks, he gets everybody’s attention. He’s really done a good job of developing his body and overall strength. He’s very smart and understands exactly what the coach is trying to accomplish each play call. He does a really good job reading the defense and taking what the defense gives him.” Voted to 2021 All-MEAC Second Team. Ranked second in the MEAC with 2,496 yards of total offense, an average of 226.9 total yards per contest. Threw for 2,133 yards to become just the second quarterback in NCCU history to register more than 2,000 passing yards in consecutive seasons. Completed 58.0% of his passes (177-for-305) and accounted for 23 total touchdowns (15 passing, 8 rushing). After his first two seasons (2019, 2021), ranks eighth on NCCU’s all-time career passing list with 4,153 passing yards, and seventh in career total offense with 4,761 total yards.
Walker Harris (So., 6-0, 180, Rolesville, N.C.): “A competitor. Walker has shown us that the moment is not too big for him. Really smart athlete with a strong arm.” Completed 18 of 32 passes for 152 yards, while rushing 6 times for 24 yards in first college season. Led Eagles to victory as starting quarterback vs. Winston-Salem State (Sept. 18), completing 16 of 26 passes for 134 yards and 24 rushing yards.
Quest Powell (R-Fr., 6-2, 180, Woodbridge, Va.): “Quest has done a good job of improving his mechanics, which has helped him increase his arm strength. He got a lot of meaningful reps in the spring, so we had an opportunity to give him an honest evaluation, and he has shown tremendous improvement.”
Oliver’s Analysis: “With the overall depth at the running back position, our top four or five guys can all carry the load.”
Players to Watch:
Latrell Collier (R-Jr., 5-10, 185, Bluefield, W.Va.): “‘Mookie’ is the Swiss army knife. He is good in pass protection, he has good hands out of the backfield, he is powerful between the tackles, and all he does is score touchdowns.” Topped the Eagles in rushing yards with 399, averaging 5.0 yards per carry, and ran for 6 touchdowns. Led the team in touchdowns for the second straight season, finding the end zone 9 times (6 rushing, 3 receiving). Caught 10 passes for 77 yards and 3 touchdowns.
J’mari Taylor (So., 6-0, 190, Charlotte, N.C.): “J’mari had a great spring. We were very impressed with him. He’s very elusive, great quickness, good vision, and he can take it the distance.”
Josh Pullen (R-So., 6-1, 220, Rolesville, N.C.) and Arthur Rodgers (R-Fr., 5-8, 210, Snellville, Ga./Marshall University transfer) “are both bigger, physical downhill backs.”
Christian Mosley (5-11, 180, Fort Worth, Texas/Cisco College transfer): “Christian is a home run hitter. We’re looking for him to come in and be in the rotation.”
Oliver’s Analysis: “We have playmakers both inside and outside. I like the length we have on the edge. Although we’re fairly young, they gained a lot of experience last year.”
Players to Watch:
Treveyon Pratt (Sr., 6-1, 190, High Point, N.C.): “Pratt had the best spring out of the receiver group, and continued to improve from last season. He has very good speed and is a match-up problem for defensive backs.” In the past two seasons, has amassed 25 receptions for 302 yards and 2 touchdowns, including 13 catches for 92 yards in 2021.
Devin Smith (So., 5-10, 180, Durham, N.C.): “Devin has all the tools to be one of the next great receivers to come through here. Unbelievable hands, great route runner, very smart, and has a knack for making big plays.” Played in 10 of 11 games, including 4 as a starting wide receiver in 2021. Recorded 23 receptions for 302 yards and 4 touchdowns in first college season. After earning a starting role midway through the year, recorded 21 catches for 290 yards and 4 touchdowns in the final six games.
Andrew Smith (So., 6-1, 190, Cary, N.C.): “Andrew had some huge catches for us last year as a freshman. I see him picking up where he left off. He’s a good route runner with really good top-end speed and is physical.” Topped the team with an average of 16.5 yards per catch. Ranked second on the squad with 362 receiving yards, and third with 22 catches.
Tyler Barnes (Sr., 6-4, 220, Charlotte, N.C.): “A big physical receiver at 6-4, 220.” Collected 13 receptions for 103 yards, averaging 7.9 yards per catch.
E.J. Hicks (R-Sr., 5-11, 170, Rolesville, N.C.): “E.J. is electrifying, very quick and elusive. He has very good long speed and will also be a big key in our return game.” Recorded 3 catches for 37 yards in a win over Alcorn State (Aug. 28) in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge. Suffered season-ending injury at Marshall (Sept. 11).
Quentin McCall (So., 6-4, 190, Charlotte, N.C.) and Joaquin Davis (So., 6-3, 190, Durham, N.C.) “Two long guys that we see having a huge role coming into the season.”
Oliver’s Analysis: “A very diverse group with guys that possess various skill sets.”
Players to Watch:
Kyle Morgan (So., 6-2, 240, Holly Springs, N.C.) “Kyle played a lot for us as a true freshman. He has really improved his overall strength this off-season. He’s a physical blocker in the run game and has improved as a route runner.”
Luke Bracey (Fr., 6-6, 230, Rock Hill, S.C.) and Matthew Brown (R-Jr., 6-2, 230, Guyton, Ga./University of Georgia transfer): “We expect them to make an immediate impact in their first year at NCCU.”
Oliver’s Analysis: “We brought in 22 offensive linemen to camp. Obviously, depth helps with competition, and we can develop the young guys without the need to throw them into the fire before they are ready. This is probably the closest knit group on the team. The chemistry and continuity on the offensive front will be huge. We missed that last year with all of the line-up changes we needed to make. Their football knowledge is outstanding, and I think we are very athletic up front.”
Players to Watch:
Torricelli Simpkins III (So., 6-3, 300, Charlotte, N.C.): “Torricelli can play all five positions. He’s very physical and is one of the smartest football players I’ve been around. He’s the heartbeat of the offensive line.” Started all 11 games in first college season. Announced to the 2021 Phil Steele FCS All-MEAC Third Team.
Corey Bullock (Jr., 6-4, 290, Accokeek, Md.): “Corey is versatile. He played center, guard and tackle for us last year. He’s like a coach on the field. I think he’s one of the best linemen in the conference.” Voted All-MEAC Second Team. Topped the Eagles with a grade of 85%, along with team-highs of 14 pancake blocks and nine knockdowns. Played multiple positions on the offensive front, surrendering just one sack in 11 games played.
Robert Mitchell (R-Sr., 6-4, 310, Millsboro, Del.): “Robert is the vet of the group. He’s probably the strongest up front. Explosive and powerful.” Suffered a season-ending injury in the second game of the season.
Kideam Diouf (R-Sr., 6-7, 290, Elkton,Md.) and Da’Quan Thomas (R-So., 6-2, 315, West Palm Beach, Fla.): “Both athletic tackles that possess good length and can handle the speed rushers off the edge.” Combined for 21 games played and 18 starts last season.
Xi Simpson (R-Sr., 6-2, 290, Chester, S.C./Wingate University transfer): “We expect Xi to have an immediate impact and add much-needed experience up front.” Started 20 games on the offensive line the past two seasons (2019, 2021)at Wingate University.
Returning Starters: 7 (DB Brandon Codrington, DL Jessie Malit, DB Manny Smith, DL Jaden Taylor, DL Colby Warrior, DB JaJuan Hudson, DL Quantez Mansfield).
Coaches: Courtney Coard (defensive coordinator/defensive line), Claude Clayborne (linebackers), Mike Sewell (cornerbacks).
Oliver’s Analysis: “A good combination of returners with experience and a quality group of newcomers that will be able to help us.”
Players to Watch:
Jessie Malit (R-Sr., 6-3, 235, Concord, N.C.): “Jessie brings experience to the position. He’s the leader of the defensive line. He has the strength to defeat blocks by bigger offensive linemen, and he’s athletic enough to be a force in pass rush.” Voted All-MEAC Third Team. Collected 28 tackles with 5.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. His 3.5 sacks tied for the team lead and ranked fifth in the conference.
Colby Warrior (R-Sr., 6-2, 245, Fayetteville, Ga.): “Colby is very athletic and fluid. An excellent edge rusher.” Recorded 24 tackles, including 2.0 hits for a loss with a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Jaden Taylor (R-So., 6-1, 275, Durham, N.C.): “Jaden possesses exceptional strength and does an outstanding job with block destruction.” Named All-MEAC Third Team. Finished fourth on the team with 60 tackles, including 6.0 takedowns for a loss with 1.5 sacks and a pair of forced fumbles.
Quantez Mansfield (Jr., 6-2, 290, Greensboro, N.C.): “Quantez is very athletic for his size. A passionate player that plays with a motor.” Ranked second on the team with 6.0 stops for a loss, along with 1.5 sacks among his 36 total tackles. Led team with 4 quarterback hurries.
Deontrae Brown (Jr., 6-6, 210, Durham, N.C.): “Deontrae will be vying for a starting spot at the week-side end.” Tallied 17 tackles, including a stop for a loss and a quarterback hurry.
Matthew Leavelle (R-So., 6-4, 215, Williamston, N.C.): “We’re excited to get Matthew back from injury.”
Oliver’s Analysis: “A young group with a lot of new faces, but we have some true old-school linebackers that are physical and have a good feel for the game.”
Players to Watch:
Jaki Brevard (So., 6-0, 200, Durham, N.C.): “Jaki is a very smart football player. He does a good job playing in the box and in space.” Registered 5 tackles in 8 appearances.
Solomon Sutton (So., 6-0, 210, Charlotte, N.C.): “Solomon is a physical, downhill-type linebacker.”
Max U’Ren (R-Fr., 6-3, 230, Winston-Salem, N.C.) and Corey Peterson (So., 6-1, 225, Wake Forest, N.C.): “Two guys that had an outstanding off-season and are expected to be fighting for playing time.”
Oliver’s Analysis: “This is probably the most experienced group on the team. There’s good speed with this unit.”
Players to Watch:
Brandon Codrington (Jr., 5-9, 170, Raleigh, N.C.): “Brandon has all the tools to be a great cornerback – quickness, instincts and overall top-end speed with very good ball skills.” Named to 2021 Phil Steele FCS All-MEAC Teams in four different positions, receiving First Team merit as a punt returner, Third Team as a kickoff returner and all-purpose player, and Fourth Team as a defensive back. Finished third on the team with 4 pass break-ups and seventh on the squad with 43 tackles (31 solo). Blocked two kicks, forced a fumble, and recovered a fumble.
JaJuan Hudson (Jr., 5-10, 175, Camden, N.J.): “JaJuan has a high football I.Q. and is a competitor with a good feel for the game.” Ranked fifth on the team with 59 tackles (43 solo), including 3 hits for a loss, with 3 pass break-ups, a forced fumble and 2 blocked kicks.
Justin Nicholson (R-Sr., 6-0, 195, Concord, N.C.): “Justin is the veteran of the group. He has a lot of experience with a good understanding of the game.” Collected 23 tackles with an interception last year, after ranking second on the team with 10 passes defended in 2019.
Jason Chambers (Fr., 5-10, 175, Charlotte, N.C.): “Justin has the tools to be a solid cornerback for us in the future, and should expect to see playing time.”
Oliver’s Analysis: “There will be some competitive battles during preseason camp. We have some veterans with a mix of young guns that will compete.”
Players to Watch:
Manny Smith (R-Jr., 6-0, 180, Laurel Hill, N.C.): “Manny is a great all-around player. He’s physical in the run game, a good open-field tackler and has fluid hips, which helps him in pass defense.” Placed third on the squad with 61 tackles, including a team-high 44 solo stops, with a sack, two pass break-ups, an interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Named Defensive MVP of the MEAC/SWAC Challenge with 10 takedowns, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the win over Alcorn State.
Khalil Baker (Jr., 6-0, 185, Rural Hall, N.C.): “Khalil has probably shown the most growth among the safeties since last year. He has a better understanding of the scheme and how offenses are trying to attack us.” Tallied 16 tackles with an assisted takedown for a loss and 2 pass break-ups.
Kole Jones (So., 5-10, 185, Chesapeake, Va.), who recorded 8 tackles with a forced fumble and a team-high 2 interceptions last season, and Isaiah Lawson (So., 6-1, 200, Charlotte, N.C.): “Two young, up-and-coming players that will be competing at the striker position.”
Tamaurice Smith (R-Sr., 5-9, 180, Mobile, Ala./Southern University transfer): “Tamaurice can play cornerback or safety. He can do everything – a jack of all trades. He’s a good enough cover guy to play corner, and he’s physical enough to play safety.” Named to 2019 All-SWAC second team, finishing the year tied for second in the SWAC in interceptions (5) and tied for fourth in passes defended (13). In 2021, tied for ninth in the SWAC in pass breakups (9), adding 27 tackles (19 solo) with 2.0 hits for a loss.
Jauqine Vukobradovich (Sr., 6-1, 185, Panorama City, Calif.): “Vuko is a long safety that has good range and can cover a lot of ground in the backend. He brings additional depth to the secondary and will be fighting for a starting position.” Collected 26 tackles (15 solo) with 2 pass break-ups and a forced fumble.
Adrian Olivo (Jr., 5-10, 160, Plant City, Fla.): “Adrian is an All-MEAC first team kicker that has demonstrated field-goal accuracy and has improved his leg strength.” Voted All-MEAC First Team. Led the MEAC with 11 field goals made and ranked second in the nation in field goal percentage (91.7%), converting 11 of 12 field goal attempts with a long of 43 yards. Topped the Eagles in scoring with 58 points.
Carlos Beltran-Rodriguez (Jr., 5-9, 180, Burlington, N.C.): “Carlos is coming off an injury-riddled season last year. We’re expecting him to push Adrian Olivo for the starting spot.”
Juan Velarde (So., 5-10, 180, Anderson, S.C.): “Juan did a really good job of directional punting and pinning teams inside the 10-yard line.” Averaged 38.0 yards per punt, including four boots of more than 50 yards with a long of 58 yards. Placed 16 punts inside the 20-yard line and forced 20 fair catches on 59 kicks.
Mykah Stone (Jr., 6-0, 195, Winston-Salem, N.C.): “Mykah is slated to be the starting long snapper.”
Brandon Codrington (Jr., 5-9, 170, Raleigh, N.C.): “Brandon is electrifying and very shifty with good long speed.” Garnered All-MEAC First Team and BOXTOROW HBCU All-America honors as the third-leading punt returner in NCAA Division I-FCS with a MEAC-best 15.0-yard punt return average. Ranked second in the league with a 22.5-yard kickoff return average.
E.J. Hicks (R-Sr., 5-11, 170, Rolesville, N.C.): “E.J. is dangerous and a proven playmaker in the return game.”
Treveyon Pratt (Sr., 6-1, 190, High Point, N.C.): “With his exceptional speed, Pratt is a threat to take it the distance anytime he gets his hands on the ball.”
(photo by Kevin Dorsey)