* North Carolina A&T coach Duane Ross looks on while coaching one of his Aggie athletes
Photo Credit: North Carolina A&T athletics
By Garrett Zatlin - MileSplit Recruiting Correspondent
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When it comes to top-ranked collegiate track and field programs, a few marquee teams come to mind.
Whether it's Oregon in the distance events or LSU in the sprints, the established Power Five juggernauts have garnered plenty of attention and acclaim over their decades of dominance.
However, the men and women of North Carolina A&T, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), have begun to rapidly rise up in the ranks of the NCAA, collecting high-level sprint and middle distance talents over the past few years. Recently the Aggies were named the No. 2 team in the country by the USTFCCA.
The coaching staff, headed by Duane Ross, has maintained consistency in terms of recruiting and training and the program has produced a bevy of nationally-competitive marks and performances as a result. It's one thing for a relatively smaller university to have a great year on the track, but to maintain such a high level of success for consecutive years often takes a coaching staff that has fully bought-in.
On the Greensboro campus, the track and field team is quickly becoming the university's centerpiece athletic program.
And so it wouldn't be a surprise to learn that Ross has been courted by major universities in recent years to take over job vacancies -- he's certainly earned that respect. But it also wouldn't be a surprise to see Ross stay at North Carolina A&T. Both of his children, Randolph (Class of 2023) and Jonah (Class of 2024), have enrolled with the Aggies in recent years, with the former among the program's top performers already.
Just last year, the men of North Carolina A&T brought in what was arguably one of the best recruiting classes in the nation. Between Brandon Nya, Reheem Hayles, Javonte' Harding and a few others, the Aggies were able to add numerous youngsters capable of having an instant impact on the collegiate scene during their rookie years.
In fact, we've already seen Harding emerge as one of the nation's top talents through the first month of the indoor track season. The Virginia native is currently ranked NCAA No. 4 at 200 meters with an incredible time of 20.69, and he is also ranked at NCAA No. 69 in the 60m.
However, the Aggies have done more than just land great recruits. The program's consistent development and the never-ending improvements from some of their top names has stood out in a major way, even among the best programs in the nation.
When looking at the 2021 indoor track season, Harding is just one of the many men who are currently listed on the national leaderboard. Athletes such as Jaylan Mitchell, Tavarius Wright, the sophomore Ross, Trevor Stewart and Daniel Stokes are scattered all over the national rankings when it comes to the sprint events.
Photo Credit: North Carolina A&T
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Meanwhile, Rasheem Brown is currently ranked at NCAA No. 4 in the 60mH, while the duo of Brandon Hicklin and Bradley Fleurinord are ranked at NCAA No. 9 and NCAA No. 27 in the long jump, respectively.
Oh, and did we mention that the North Carolina A&T men currently hold the nation's top time in the 4x400m relay?
Admittedly, there is still six weeks left until the NCAA Indoor Championships, and many teams will surely step up and produce times that will rival what we've seen from the Aggies so far this season.
Even so, the incredible display of roster depth and the continuous rise of top-ranked sprints talent is wildly impressive for an HBCU that is tucked away in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Of course, the men aren't the only ones finding success. One could argue that the women have been just as good, if not better.
Last year's recruiting class wasn't quite as star-studded on the women's side as it was the men's side, but the addition of Duane's daughter, top-ranked recruit Jonah Ross, was monumental. The current freshman was one of the most well-rounded high school sprinters in the entire country during the 2019 indoor track season, earning numerous top marks on the national leaderboard between the 55m dash, 60m dash, 200 meters and 300 meters.
And just like the men, the Aggie women have their best talents listed alongside some of the best names in the TFRRS descending order list. In fact, Cambrea Sturgis, Symone Darius, Kamaya Debose-Epps and the aforementioned Jonah Ross are all listed within the NCAA's top-60 for the women's 60m dash so far this season. Sturgis currently sits at NCAA #9.
And the 200 meters? Well, North Carolina A&T is arguably even better in that event. Delecia McDuffie, Ross, Debose-Epps, Sturgis, Darius and Nilaga Florence are all listed within the NCAA's top-75 for the half-lap sprint this season.
Along with the 400m, 800m and the 60m hurdles, the North Carolina A&T women have reached a tier where they can be competitive in a variety of events, causing an overwhelming number of point-scoring problems for their conference foes at championship meets.
Of course, this ongoing indoor track season isn't the only time that we've seen the Aggies in the upper-echelon of track and field programs around the NCAA.
Both teams finished the 2020 indoor track season ranked within the top 25 in the national coaches poll. During the 2019 outdoor track season, both the men's and women's teams were ranked at No. 15 in the national coaches poll.
The ongoing success for this program doesn't seem to be stopping any time soon. And the example North Carolina A&T is setting as an HBCU shouldn't be an outlier, either.
Coach Ross has clearly established high standards and expectations for this group and the results that we've seen on paper were enough to reward him with a contract extension back in 2019.
In a world of highly-funded, brand-name track and field powerhouses, it's the North Carolina A&T men and women who are emerging as more than just contenders. They're emerging as true threats to some of the best teams in the nation.
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For Black History Month, MileSplit will be publishing a series of stories honoring HBCU programs, along with interviews and videos with coaches and athletes.
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