In the end, Hatalsky measures up for Danes

From walk-on to CAA Defensive Player of the Week
Nate Hatalsky went from walk-on linebacker to scholarship player to reigning CAA Defensive Player of the Week for the UAlbany.
Nate Hatalsky went from walk-on linebacker to scholarship player to reigning CAA Defensive Player of the Week for the UAlbany.

ALBANY — It was meant as a compliment.

How University at Albany redshirt senior linebacker Nate Hatalsky took it demonstrated the confidence that’s made such words from his coach possible.

“I think through the first three weeks, he’s played better than I thought he could play — where his talent level was,” UAlbany football head coach Greg Gattuso said earlier this week of Hatalsky. “But that’s the thing. You can never measure kids just on the measurables or any one thing. Successful players can be a lot of things.”

Hatalsky — once a walk-on for the Great Danes, now the reigning CAA Defensive Player of the Week — appreciated the kind words from his coach. 

The way Hatalsky sees it, though, he’s not overachieving. His 2017 season is not a surprise to himself.

“I don’t know,” Hatalsky said after a pause. “I don’t think so.”

That type of confidence in himself is a major reason for Hatalsky’s success this season — but his coach isn’t wrong when he refers to the redshirt senior’s final season with the Great Danes as playing out “like a dream.” Hatalsky, a Mechanicville native and a former Red Raider, has 27 total tackles this season after entering the campaign with 32 in his collegiate career. In last Saturday’s 28-14 win against Monmouth, Hatalsky recorded eight solo tackles and seven assisted tackles. The 6-foot, 225-pound linebacker has led UAlbany in tackles each game this season.

“But my defense is really helping me,” Hatalsky said. “I lean on those guys, they lean on me and I think that’s a big thing. A lot of those guys are playing their butts off and that really helps me out.”

As expected, UAlbany’s defense has been solid this season. Heading into Saturday’s matchup against nationally-ranked Villanova, the Great Danes rank fourth in the CAA in scoring defense at 15.0 points per game. 

But on a defense loaded with star power, UAlbany redshirt junior linebacker Julian Cox said the aggression and enthusiasm Hatalsky brings to the field — during practices and games — has helped key the Great Danes’ fast start.

“I just know how much this game means to him,” Cox said. “He’s someone who approaches this every day with so much desire. His passion for the game is contagious.”

That passion helped turn Hatalsky go from a walk-on in his first season, up to a partial scholarship, then to a full scholarship for his final season. In what was a slight surprise, Hatalsky won a starting linebacker job during the preseason and was rewarded with a boost in his scholarship status for the 2017 season. 

“That’s something that makes me very happy, when you see a kid go through that process in five years,” Gat­tuso said. “It also encourages all the other kids that walk on our team.”

It took Hatalsky, who has worked a summer landscaping job to help pay for his tuition at UAlbany, a bit to adjust to playing Division I football. Dealing with the game’s quicker pace and faster athletes are commons issues for all players, but Hatalsky likely had a tougher adjustment period after playing small-school football during his high school career.

“I didn’t really see that [type of speed] at Mechanicville,” Hatalsky said. “Now that I’m seeing it, I just change the angle of the game, change my attack on the game.”

Gattuso said Hatalsky has emerged as a leader for his defense, a role played last year by then-redshirt senior Michael Nicastro. Like Nicastro, Hatalsky has become a player the Great Danes are eager to follow.

“He is somebody you want to be on the same side with on Saturdays,” Cox said.

Categories: College Sports, Sports

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