Categories: College Sports
The University at Albany backfield will have a different look when the Great Danes open their 2016 football season in just over three weeks at Buffalo.
“I’m eager to see what they bring to the table,” sophomore quarterback Neven Sussman said Tuesday at the team’s annual media day at Bob Ford Field. “I haven’t seen them run except for ‘EB’.”
Elijah ‘EB’ Ibitokun-Hanks is the lone returning tailback who carried the football last season when, as a freshman, the New Jersey native ran 104 times for a team-leading 609 yards with two touchdowns. He entered spring training on March 22 in a battle for the No. 1 tailback spot with CBA graduate Elliott Croskey, UAlbany’s second-leading rusher in 2015, who after being suspended transferred to Nassau Community College.
“It means I have to definitely step up my game, and for the guys coming along I have to be a leader. Show them the way,” Ibitokun-Hanks said. “The group is getting there. There’s lots of potential.”
The running candidates include Golden West College redshirt sophomore transfer Kjaye Rodgers Jr., redshirt senior Power Lawrence, redshirt junior Cameron Wynn and sophomore Jamal Williams. Wynn, a CBA graduate, played cornerback in previous seasons.
“Obviously we had an opening,” UAlbany third-year head coach Greg Gattuso said in reference to Croskey’s departure. “We recruited Rodgers and he’s really good. He has the ability to play in this league.”
Rodgers, who joined the team in early June, is listed at No. 2 behind Ibitokum-Hanks on the current UAlbany depth chart.
“We have five guys,” Gattuso said. “We’re looking at who the third guy is.”
Croskey was the team’s top guy in 2015 in terms of carries (141) and touchdowns scored (four), while rushing for 523 yards as a redshirt freshman. The past Daily Gazette All-Area first-teamer and Section II Super Bowl champion was suspended from the team in the midst of spring practice on April 1 for an unspecified “violation of team rules” and did not return.
“He’s going to Nassau Community College,” Gattuso said. “We hope and pray that he can get back on track. He has talent and we’re going to root for him. We like him and want him to do well.”
Redshirt freshman Griffin Clancy, a right tackle from Saratoga Springs, believes Ibitokun-Hanks is going to do very well in his lead role. Ibitokun-Hanks ran for 202 yards on 25 carries late last season in a 38-31 loss at Richmond, setting a freshman program record for one-game rushing yards.
“I have a lot of faith in him,” Clancy said. “Us being freshmen last year, we bonded. He’s a hard worker in the weight room and he takes that to the field. He’s ready to take the next step. Being a rookie in this conference, he did well. He’s ready for more.”
Gattuso is thinking big things from the 5-foot-9, 190-pound sophomore, too.
“The goal is to have a 1,000-yard rusher, a 500-yarder behind him, and throw the ball effectively,” Gattuso said. “I can see that happening.”
Sussman said what he likes what he has seen from the tailback group.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm in those guys,” Sussman, who is No, 1 on the depth chart ahead of redshirt junior DJ Crook, said. “They fly around. They carry the ball with conviction.”
UAlbany (3-8 overall, 2-6 Colonial Athletic Association in 2015) has its entire starting offensive line back to pave the way, and on the flip side, eight returning defensive starters.
“We understand what happened last year. We got our bumps and bruises, and now we’re ready to dish some out,” Ibitokun-Hanks said. “We know what we have here. Those on the outside looking in don’t know. We’re looking to shock people.”
UAlbany has a trio of former Section II stars who are currently No. 1 on the depth chart in redshirt junior tight end Nic Ketter of Queensbury, sophomore defensive tackle Nick Griffin of Shaker and Milford Academy, and redshirt senior punter Jon Martin of Bethlehem.
UAlbany opens its season with a pair of road games Sept. 2 and Sept 10 at Buffalo and Rhode Island, respectively, before its Sept. 17 home debut against Holy Cross. The Great Danes were picked to finish 11th of the 12 CAA teams by the league’s head coaches and media relations directors.
“We need to have all three phases,” Gattuso said. “It takes all three units working.”