HBCU Football

Tarik Cohen does the running, man — again

N.C. A&T’s career-leading running back gets 256 yards against Hampton University

North Carolina A&T State University running back coach Shawn Gibbs has a keen sense for when his star tailback might have a breakout game. Before last December’s inaugural Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, he told Tarik Cohen that 300 yards was in his future. Cohen was skeptical at first, but by day’s end, his stat line read 295 yards and three touchdowns, plus the victory to boot.

Thursday night, before the Aggies took the field against Hampton University, Gibbs got that feeling again. The rest is history. After rushing for 256 yards and three touchdowns, Cohen gave The Undefeated an exclusive recap of his night in the Aggies’ 31-9 win:

“Shawn Gibbs felt like I was going to have a big night against Hampton, and he’s usually never wrong. Before the Air Force Reserve Celebration Bowl, he told me I was going to have a 300-yard game, and I ended up with 295. Before this game he told me same thing. Before the Celebration Bowl, I didn’t believe him. But since that game, I always believe him when he says something like that. I started feeling good in the second half against Hampton. We came out after halftime, we were kind of frustrated with our offense. We were only ahead 10-3. We weren’t moving the ball the way we knew we could, not finding the end zone, and we knew we had to turn it up. So when I started hitting the holes in the second half, I felt like I would have a good second half, and the offense settled in.

“We got the win, and that’s the most important thing. It was an all-around good night, for me. I passed Stoney Polite on my first touchdown run and set the Aggies’ record with 42 career rushing touchdowns. I didn’t even know about [the record] until our first game again Saint Augustine’s, when the team told me about it. Since then, it had been in the back of my mind, but I really think about the yards over the touchdowns. I feel like touchdowns come with yards. Can’t forget about my O-line. They helped me get to this point — all of my O-line guys since my freshman year.

“What I really have my sights on is the career MEAC [Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference] rushing record. I’m just a little over a 100 yards away from that.

“My 94-yard run late in the game? That was just a regular old isolation play. We were in our four-minute offense — where we’re supposed to stay inbounds, get some first downs, get the other team to waste their timeouts and just manage the game. But I had run up into the hole, and decided to bounce it — because everything had clogged up. That’s when I saw daylight. I was thinking, ‘Should I fall down and run out the clock?’ But then I saw the end zone, and decided to go get it.

“That open-field finish is all a credit to [N.C. A&T track and field coach] Duane Ross — I could hear him saying, ‘Get those knees up.’ I felt like the defender might have caught me from behind, but then I had to go in. I was looking at the Jumbotron and saw how close he was behind me. Once I got that angle, I knew I was good.

“I still believe I’m the best running back in the country, but I’m definitely starting to feel like the added exposure is putting me out there. Being on ESPN is giving the world a chance to see our team and what we can do, and to see who I am as a player.

“We’re not thinking about the Celebration Bowl just yet. We’re taking it one game at a time right now. That’s the way we’re gonna do it. That’s Coach [Rod] Broadway’s message to us every game.”