ALBANY — The shock of the postponement of their 2020 season still hasn’t worn off for many UAlbany football players, but with hopes high to play things out next spring, there’s both a sense of optimism and a determination amongst the Great Danes not to let any extra time they’ve got to prepare for the potential season go to waste.
“We are eventually going to play football at some point,” rising redshirt sophomore linebacker Joe Casale said Tuesday during a Zoom conference call with reporters. “Knowing you’re going to play football is enough motivation for me to keep going.”
Friday, UAlbany announced in conjunction with the America East — where most of UAlbany’s teams play — and the Colonial Athletic Association — where the Great Danes are a member for football — that the school was postponing all fall sports competitions with the intention of having those sports compete during the spring semester.
The CAA gave member schools the option of exploring an independent schedule this fall, but UAlbany athletic director Mark Benson said in a conference call with reporters Friday that UAlbany did not entertain that idea and is focusing on playing football in the spring along with the rest of the school’s fall athletic programs.
It was a tough pill to swallow, rising redshirt sophomore quarterback Jeff Undercuffler said Tuesday, but it was also a decision he understands the UAlbany administration did with the health and safety of the school’s student-athletes at heart.
“It certainly isn’t what we wanted,” Undercuffler said, “but at the end of the day, everybody at UAlbany — coach [Greg] Gattuso, all the coaches, our trainers and everybody pretty much associated with our program — is always looking out for us. We have the biggest respect for them, and we know they made the right decision.”
“I was really looking forward to getting back together, but things do happen,” added rising fifth-year senior linebacker Levi Metheny. “We’ve got to think about safety first. It’s going to be a lot different, but we’re still going to be training.”
Undercuffler is coming off a record-setting campaign in 2019, when he was named the CAA Offensive Rookie of the Year after setting UAlbany program records with 262 completions, 464 attempts, 3,543 passing yards and an NCAA FCS-leading 41 touchdowns as he helped UAlbany go 9-5 and post its first-ever FCS playoff win.
Now, Undercuffler said, it’s up to the Great Danes to make the best use of the extra time they’ve got.
“At the end of the day, you only get better or you get worse,” he said. “That’s your decision. You’ve just got to have that right mindset.”
For Metheny, that mindset means adhering to the individual offseason training programs provided by UAlbany’s strength and conditioning coaches — a program he said the vast majority of the team is sticking to faithfully.
It’s also been vital for the players to keep tabs on each other, with most of the team’s positional leaders checking in with their groups at least once a week through texts, FaceTime or Zoom chats.
“We’re not together all the time now,” Metheny said, “and a lot of us aren’t even in Albany right now, so it is a lot more tough to keep track of the guys, but at the same time we’ve built a really good culture over the years at this program and we do check in on each other all the time.”
Casale, a former star at Troy High, said he’ll continue to use the extra time to help pack on some size to continue to help the transition he made in 2019 from defensive back to linebacker.
“It’s just extra time to get bigger, faster, stronger,” he said, adding that he expects the extended offseason to benefit the entire team in that regard.
But, that doesn’t mean a fall without football won’t be strange.
It’s been at least a decade, Casale said, since August rolled around and he wasn’t getting ready to strap on a football helmet.
While he said that adjusting to the change will be “nothing too crazy,” all this time without football has put Casale’s love for the game in perspective.
“You kind of just miss those little times after practice and stuff like that,” he said. “You’ve really got to cherish the time you get to play this game, because it’s special.”
As for a rising senior like Metheny, he’s willing to wait as long as it takes for his final season in UAlbany purple and gold.
“I’m going to play until either the NCAA, or somebody, tells me I can’t play,” Metheny said. “If they grant me that [extra] year [of eligibility if the season gets canceled], I’ll be sure to be playing. I truly believe that we will play in the spring, but if that’s not possible and the season’s pushed further, as long I’m able to play I’m going to be playing.”
Reach Adam Shinder at [email protected] or @Adam_Shinder on Twitter.