TROY — It was all so familiar, but also, in a way, a little “weird.”
The uniforms were purple and gold, as was the Big “T” at midfield.
Wide receiver Dev Holmes cut to the left sideline on Saturday, as he had so many times at Troy High School.
Defensive back Joe Casale wasn’t far away, shadowing his buddy on their home turf.
This time, though, they did it as freshmen on the UAlbany Great Danes football team, which moved its spring game off campus to get out in the community more.
One of the highlights was an interception by Casale on the first play of a two-minute simulation at the end of the first half, as he got his hands on Jeff Undercuffler’s pass to Holmes.
Just being there was a highlight for Casale and Holmes, who starred on two state championship teams at Troy and now are finding their way through the big jump to college ball.
“The first time we were warming up, it was almost like a weird dream, where you’re at your high school field, but you’re with all your college coaches,” Casale said. “It was a weird combination, but it was fun, I enjoyed it.”
“It was exciting,” Holmes said. “Undefeated on this field, and coming back to my alma mater with one of my best friends, Joe Casale, to play our first spring game in college was a great experience. It’s always great to come back to where you basically learned everything and will keep learning in college.”
The speedy Holmes was the Great Danes’ leading receiver, starting all 11 games and catching 50 passes for 734 yards while being named Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Week three times.
Casale played in just four games last fall, but head coach Greg Gattuso expects him to contribute more next season, as UAlbany adjusts its defense to a smaller, quicker identity.
“He’s very smart, he’s very tough,” Gattuso said. “He combines a lot of things. He’s certainly not the fastest guy, but he knows where to be. I’m really excited about his progress. He’s 210, 212 pounds, and he’s going to be a 235-pound linebacker who’s going to be a really good football player as he progresses.”
Holmes, meanwhile, didn’t get much action in his direction on Saturday, but will be continue to be an integral part of the receiving corps, especially once he fully adjusts to the physical nature of college defensive backs.
He said offseason weightroom work will help that process.
“I learned that, in high school, the holding calls will be called on the DBs, and it’s not going to be called in college,” he said. “That’s what they do, they hold you, they get physical with you.”
“Dev’s expectations of himself and the community’s expectations are so high — justifiably so — but he’s a true freshman, and there’s a big learning curve, how you run routes, how you avoid linebackers,” Gattuso said. “Our defense is being real physical with our receivers right now, and that’s all learning process,
“The last five or six games last year, they just attacked him. They’re not going to let one guy beat them. They’re going to take you out, and I think that’s what he’s learning.”
The format of the spring game was running time for three quarters and one more drive after that, with the first and second offense earning the usual points for scoring and extra points for 20-plus-yard passes, 15-plus-yard runs and fourth-down conversions.
The defense earned points for turnovers, three-and-outs, fourth-down stops and tackles for losses. The final “score” favored the defense, which was told not to finish tackles, 26-19, with redshirt sophomore quarterback Nyc Burns accounting for the only offensive touchdown on a 40-yard jump ball into the end zone that Donovan McDonald leapt up to catch.
Casale nearly had another interception, on a Burns throw in the third quarter, but it went through his hands and was caught by fellow defensive back Xavier Smith, who nearly ran it in for a touchdown.
“So I’m lined up over Dev [on the first pick], and whenever he sees me, he usually chirps me a little bit,” Casale said. “He went out fast, so I followed him and the ball was just there, so I went ahead and took advantage of it.
“We might call that [second one] a MOPP — Missed Opportunity — but it was good that X made a good play on it.”
“We just looked at each other and smiled [after Casale’s pick],” Holmes said. “It was just fun to get out here on the field again.”
Despite the touchdown pass from Burns, a Tulsa, Okla. native who redshirted one year at Oklahoma State and played one season at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, Undercuffler is the presumptive starter next season.
He played all of the snaps with the first unit, while Burns and Braeden Zenelovic split time with the second.
“I had to work with Dev off of Joe, the two Troy natives, and in this league, Division I football, you can’t miss a ball six inches inside,” Undercuffler said of his interception. “You have to put it right on him, and I threw a bad ball.”
“It was good, we got about 85 plays, and we got out healthy, which was a big part of our plan,” Gattuso said. “The offense is coming along. I limited the defense in what they were allowed to do. We have some young offensive linemen in that first group that haven’t played a lot. There’s a lot of four-yard runs out there that are going to be six-yard runs when [running back] Karl Mofor] is breaking tackles.
“I was happy with all three quarterbacks. It wasn’t a great day to throw, but they were really gutsy out there. I keep telling my coaches, ‘Let’s coach him [Undercuffler] as he is now, not as we think he’s going to be in a couple years.’ He’s going to be really, really good, but right now he’s young, and we have to be careful we don’t overburden him. The last three or four games he played last year, we were a pretty good football team.”
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.
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Categories: College Sports, Sports