Mid Eastern Athletic Conference head coaches and sports information directors have voted three-time defending champion North Carolina Central in as the favorite for the 2017 league football title. Those results were unveiled Friday at the 2017 MEAC Press Luncheon at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott Hotel. The preseason event was the final one of the four HBCU conferences.
The Eagles, who shared titles in 2014 and 2015, won the title outright last season defeating rival North Carolina A&T in the final game of the regular season, just as they had done the previous two years to gain a share of those crowns. That win gave head coach Jerry Mack championships in all three years he has led the Eagles.
The Eagles received 13 first-place votes to easily outdistance A&T, who finished with five first-place votes. South Carolina State was picked to finish third while Bethune-Cookman was picked fourth. Hampton was tabbed to finish fifth followed by Florida A&M, Norfolk State, Morgan State, Howard, Savannah State and Delaware State.
Howard running back Anthony Philyaw was selected as the MEAC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, while South Carolina State linebacker Darius Leonard was selected as the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
A 2016 All-MEAC First teamer, Philyaw was the MEAC’s second-leading rusher last fall with 1,230 yards and nine touchdowns on 222 attempts. Philyaw averaged 123 yards pergame and 5.5 yards per carry with his longest run spanning 68 yards.
He ranked second in scoring touchdowns (9) and second in all-purpose yardage (144.5 ypg) en route to earning MEAC Player of the Week honors once. Philyaw had the highest single-game rushing output in the MEAC last fall with a 281-yard performance versus Delaware State as he was named STATS FCS Player of the Week. The Los Angeles, Calif. native also had 234 yards versus Monmouth along with four additional 100-yard outings, including 112 yards versus Rutgers of the Big 10 Conference.
Leonard continues South Carolina State’s strong tradition of defensive play as last season’s MEAC Defensive Player of the year honor marked the fourth consecutive season a SC State defender has earned the postseason award. He led the MEAC in tackles last season with 124 and also had 3.5 sacks and two interceptions.
The Lake View, S.C. native had 10-plus tackles in seven of SC State’s 11 games highlighted by a 19-tackle performance at College Football Playoff National Champion Clemson on Sept. 17. Leonard also tallied 16 tackles at UCF and 14 tackles at Howard.
He was named the Sheridan Broadcast Network Sports Mel Blount Defensive Player of the Year, an AFCA All-American and the BOXTOROW Willie Davis Defensive Player of the Year.
N. C. Central, N. C. A&T, S. C. State and Bethune-Cookman each had ten players selected to the three preseason all-MEAC squads. Florida A&M was next with nine.
NCCU and NC A&T had seven first teasers. S. C. State had five on the first team and B-CU had four.
The top four teams picked in the preseason – N. C. Central, N. C. A&T, S. C. State and Bethune-Cookman – accounted for all but four of the first team selections.
Mike London, the former Richmond and UVA head coach, is the only new head coach