North Carolina A&T defensive end Devin Harrell has been named the Shrine Bowl HBCU Defensive Player of the Week after helping the Aggies secure their first win of the season against staunch rivals South Carolina State on Saturday.
The sixth-year defensive end turned in a dominant performance as North Carolina A&T stymied a normally sensational South Carolina State rushing attack for the seventh straight win over the Bulldogs.
Devin Harrell leads Aggies defense in dominant performance
The Aggies had lost their first three games of the season. Yet, heading into Saturday’s game at Truist Stadium, they were a three-point favorite to beat reigning HBCU National Champion South Carolina State.
As their own ground game trampled all over the Bulldogs, the Aggies defense — led by defensive end Harrell — held an SC State offense that had rushed for over 200 yards in the previous game to a measly 12 yards.
Excelling at run defense is an often overlooked element of defensive end play. Setting the edge and helping maintain gap integrity isn’t sexy or rewarded with sensational statistical production. It doesn’t fill up the highlight reels.
However, it’s just as valuable to defensive success and even more so against a run-first offense like South Carolina State’s. Harrell is a high-level run defender, and his skill set achieved maximum success on Saturday.
While helping the Aggies limit the Bulldogs to just 12 rushing yards and forcing them into 49 pass attempts, the 6’3″, 235-pound defensive end also managed to pad his statistical résumé.
Harrell tallied two tackles that included two tackles for loss and two sacks, driving the Bulldogs bag 21 yards in the process. He now has three sacks on the year with four tackles for loss as part of a 12-tackle campaign that has already outstripped his statistical production from last season.
While his performances and importance for North Carolina A&T have often been beyond the box score, Harrell has achieved statistical success during his football journey to the 2023 NFL Draft.
In his final season for Huss High School, Harrell was named the Big South Conference Defensive Player of the Year after logging a mind-boggling 21 sacks as part of a historic season for the Huskies that saw them win a conference title for the first time since 1996.
The start to his North Carolina A&T career might have been a little slow — Harrell redshirted in 2017 and made just three appearances as a redshirt freshman in 2018 — but he exploded into the spotlight as a destructive defensive dynamo in 2019.
Tallying 37 tackles that included 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks, the Gastonia native earned third-team All-MEAC honors as he helped the Aggies to a conference crown and HBCU national title.
Harrell has become a pivotal part of the North Carolina A&T defense, and the athletic defensive end proved his worth once more on Saturday against South Carolina State. It’s not the first time that he’s taken the bite out of the Bulldogs, either.
Last season, he exploded into the quarterback’s passing lane and snagged the ball at close range, returning the interception for a score that ultimately put the game to bed late in the fourth.
Can Harrell be the first North Carolina A&T player to be selected in the NFL Draft since fellow defensive end Darryl Johnson in 2019? Athletic defensive ends who can impact the game in multiple phases are always at a premium, and there’s no doubting that the athletic Aggies pass rusher fits that bill. He’s fast, agile, and lands with ferocity when he gets into the backfield.
Harrell wasn’t on the initial Shrine Bowl 1000 Watchlist. One of the aims of the longest-running college football all-star game’s relationship with Draft HBCU is to ensure they’re not missing out on potential invitees from Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
They want to ensure that talent from these programs gets a fair chance to make it to the next level. After earning Shrine Bowl HBCU Defensive Player of the Week, Harrell has certainly put himself on the national radar.