Commentary

DeAngelo Branche carries Norfolk State

Updated: September 22, 2010, 11:32 AM ET
By Donald Hunt | Special to ESPN.com

DeAngelo Branche came into the college football season as the premier running back in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Norfolk State's brilliant rusher certainly hasn't disappointed anybody. Actually, he's been as good as advertised.

The 5-foot-11, 200-pound senior, leads the MEAC in rushing with 360 yards on 77 carries. He averages 4.7 yards a carry, and his offensive exploits have brought him a lot of attention. Branche is coming off a sensational performance against Division II Virginia State last week. He had 26 carries for 167 yards and a career-high four touchdowns in the Spartans' 51-28 win over the Trojans.

For his efforts, he was named the MEAC co-Offensive Player of the Week with Hampton quarterback David Legree. This is the third time Branche has received conference offensive-player-of-the-week honors. He was also chosen as the Division I FCS National Running Back Performer of the Week by the College Football Performance Awards.

Branche is a special player. There's no question about that. This was the 11th time in his career that he has topped the 100-yard mark and second in a row. He has rushed for 337 yards and five scores in his last two games and ranks eighth nationally in rushing (117 yards per game).

For people who have followed Branche's career, it's no surprise he has played so well. He was a terrific player for Maury High School in Norfolk, which happens to be a stone throw from Norfolk State. He was a first-team All Tidewater, a second-team All State Group AAA selection and rushed for 1,521 yards and scored 24 touchdowns his senior year. The good news for the Spartans is Branche decided to play college football in his hometown.

"He was a guy we sold about staying home," said Norfolk State head coach Pete Adrian. "He was a big-time player here in the city naturally. He's had four great years with us. He's moving up the charts on the all-time rushing list. He's done a great job. He's a local hero in the community. We pride ourselves on having a lot of kids from Virginia. Our roster is made up of 85 percent of kids just from Virginia. We have a high concentration from the Hampton Roads area."

Branche can run between the tackles and has good moves in the open field. He has benefited from a solid offensive line, which features William Falakiseni (center), Calton Ford (left guard), Kendall Noble (left tackle) and Markeece Preston (right guard).

"We have one of the better offensive lines in the league," Adrian said. "We're very experienced. We have three all-conference players returning from last year. They've played together for three years. They're good athletes. You have to make the running game go."

Norfolk State (2-1) has victories over Virginia State and North Carolina A&T (23-14). The Spartans' only loss was to Rutgers (31-0), an FCS school from the Big East. Norfolk State will visit Bethune-Cookman (2-0) on Saturday at Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach, Fla. The Wildcats have the top scoring offense in the country so this should be an interesting contest. With Branche's running ability, Norfolk State should be able to control the ball.

"DeAngelo Branche is one of the top running backs in the conference," Adrian said. "He's a physical kid. He's a kid who just gets better as the game goes on. He likes having the ball. Plus, he's a kid that catches the ball very well out of the backfield. He does a great job of blocking on the blitz pickups. You got to stop him."

Branche has played well enough to earn an invitation to the NFL combine as well as the postseason college all-star games. If Branche continues to perform at a high level on Saturdays, there's a good chance he'll be playing on Sundays.

HBCU notes

• It's rivalry week in the MEAC. Morgan State battles Howard in the New York Urban League Classic in the new Meadowlands Stadium. North Carolina A&T will face North Carolina Central in the Eagle-Aggie Classic. The game will be played in Durham for the first time in 23 years.

• If you have ever been to a black college football game, then you know how much the bands are a part of the half-time show. The SWAC schools have some great names for their bands. Here's the list:

Alabama A&M -- "Marching Maroon and White"
Alabama State -- "Mighty Marching Hornets"
Alcorn State -- "Sounds of Dyn'o'Mite"
Jackson State -- "Sonic Boom of the South"
Mississippi Valley State -- "Mean Green Marching Machine"
Arkansas-Pine Bluff -- "Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South"
Grambling State -- "World Famed Tiger Marching Band"
Prairie View A&M -- "Marching Storm"
Southern -- "Human Jukebox Marching Band"
Texas Southern -- "Ocean of Soul Marching Band"

• SBN Black College Football Poll is out. Here are the latest rankings:

1. South Carolina State
2. Florida A&M
3. Norfolk State
4. Grambling State
5. Albany State
6. Winston Salem State
7. Prairie View A&M
8. Tuskegee
9. Alabama State
10. Morehouse

• Alabama State placekicker Andrew Lyons made the biggest play of the season for the Hornets. He kicked a 47-yard field goal with 23 seconds remaining to give 3-0 Alabama State an 18-15 victory over Prairie View A&M, the defending SWAC champions.

• Morgan State placekicker Kemar Scarlett hasn't been too shabby, either. Scarlett had three field goals in a 35-9 loss to North Dakota State. Scarlett has scored 24 of the Bears 26 points this season.

• Bethune-Cookman has posted an impressive 2-0 record. The Wildcats have the No. 1 scoring offense in the country, averaging 56 points a game. Bethune-Cookman quarterback Matt Johnson has been a big part of the Wildcats' success. Johnson has completed 23-of-32 passes for 326 yards and four TDs. He has also rushed 15 times for 232 yards and three TDs.

• Florida A&M cornerback Qier Hall has been named the MEAC Defensive Player of the Week. Hall recorded six total tackles, four solo, with one for loss of two yards in the Rattlers' 50-7 win over Howard. Hall also forced and recovered a fumble which he returned 30 yards for his first career touchdown.

• Grambling State running back Frank Warren has been named the SWAC Offensive Player of the Week. Warren carried the ball 16 times for 256 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Tigers past Jackson State, 28-21. His 256 is the highest total in the NCAA this season in a single game by 35 yards.

• Texas Southern linebacker Shomari Clemons has been selected as the SWAC Defensive Player of the Week. Clemons had 11 total tackles (four solo), including 4 tackles-for-loss for 18 yards and one sack for five yards. He helped the Tigers defeat Alabama A&M, 32-9, in their home opener.

Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune. His HBCU Notebook on ESPN.com can be found here. Got a story idea for Hunt? E-mail him at dhunt37261@aol.com.