UAlbany’s young football team must grow up quick

The Great Danes have a young squad and a tall order in front of them: Competing in the Colonial Athl
University at Albany football coach Greg Gattuso said his young team has to grow up fast to compete in the Colonial Athletic Association.
University at Albany football coach Greg Gattuso said his young team has to grow up fast to compete in the Colonial Athletic Association.

It’s time for the University at Albany to take the next big step in its climb up the college football ladder.

The Great Danes travel to the University at Buffalo Saturday for the season opener. Sure, the first game of the year is always special, but UAlbany

head coach Greg Gattuso also realizes that this being his team’s first game of more to come against an FBS opponent makes it even huger.

“It’s a different level of football,” Gattuso said during Monday’s weekly Colonial Athletic Association’s coaches conference call. “We will play Buffalo this year, and we will play Pittsburgh in 2018. Those are big-time games.

“This year, we also have teams like New Hampshire, Villanova, Rhode Island and Maine on our home-game schedule. There is added significance beyond the wins or losses in games like these, because we’re trying to become a true CAA member.”

The Great Danes were picked 10th out of 12 teams in CAA’s preseason coaches poll. UAlbany joined the FCS conference in 2013, making the jump from the Northeast Conference (NEC).

Gattuso said playing teams like Buffalo, as well as the very strong teams in the CAA, should help him get closer to where he wants his team to be.

“One of my goals when I came here was to build our fan base, and scheduling games against teams like these should help that,” he said.

But Gattuso admitted that this year’s UAlbany team will have its hands full, not only this week, but throughout the season.

“We’ve got a lot of challenges,” he said. “Our talent level is really increasing with our overall speed and size. But we’re an extremely young football team that practices like an extremely young football team. I hope we start to mature quickly to get ready for the season.”

Gattuso didn’t mince words when he pointed out his biggest concern about the 2015 Great Danes.

“Our youth is our biggest concern,” he said. “We only have three seniors starting, and we only have five seniors on our two-deep chart. We’re young, and we’re lining up against a Buffalo team that has eight seniors on offense and four on defense.”

Although the Great Danes don’t have much senior leadership, Gattuso said his offensive line is the team’s most experienced unit.

“We have four juniors and one sophomore on the line, and they do have some game experience. They are not where we want them to be, but they do bring some stability,” Gattuso said. “They will be challenged by Buffalo, but they will play hard.”

Stillwater High School graduate Matthew Campion, a 6-foot-5, 330-pound junior guard, will lead the Great Danes’ offensive line.

DJ Crook, a transfer from Penn State, has been named the UAlbany starting quarterback. He completed 6 of 9 passes for 57 yards and a touchdown in Penn State’s win over Massachusetts a year ago. But the rest of the Great Danes’ backfield is extremely young.

“Omar Osbourne played about 90 percent of the time last year,” Gattuso said about his graduated tailback. “This year, we’ve got three freshmen that will be playing a lot in [CBA graduate] Elliot Croskey, Dione Alston and Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks. It’s a lot like a puppy mill. We have a lot of young puppies in our backfield.”

Another key player for UAlbany will be senior kicker Patrick Toole, who made 12 of 18 field-goal attempts and 38 of 39 PATs a year ago.

Gattuso is concerned not only about Buffalo’s FBS level and the overall talent disparity that means, but also the fact that the Bulls return two skill players in senior running back Anthone Taylor, who averaged 127.5 yards rushing per game with 12 touchdowns, and senior quarterback Joe Licata, who threw for 2,647 yards and 29 touchdowns.

“Obviously, [Licata] is a great quarterback who set a lot of records, and their running back will be one of the best, or the best, we’ve seen since I’ve been here,” Gattuso said.

“Plus, they have great size along their offensive line. They have the 14th largest offensive line in the country. That’s a big challenge for us.

“We are playing our first game of the season away from home with only a few seniors. They [the Bulls] have a lot of experience and a coaching staff that is used to success.”

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Bob Weiner at 395-3147, [email protected] or @BobWeiner58 on Twitter.

Categories: College Sports, Sports

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