It’s been 13 months since UAlbany’s last football game, but the days are ticking down until coach Greg Gattuso can finally see his team get back on the field and get the Great Danes ready for a most unusual spring season.
To make sure the season finally moves forward, Gattuso said the Great Danes will need to stick to UAlbany’s established protocols, in effect, create its “own bubble” to try and minimize the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has already forced the season to be moved to the spring.
“It’s going to hurt our social lives, and it’s going to hurt some things that they want to do,” Gattuso said in a phone interview Wednesday, “but if we want to play football, we’ve got to sacrifice.
“It’s impossible to keep the virus away from everybody. We’ve just got to do everything we can do. Playing football in the spring is a challenge enough without a pandemic going on.”
UAlbany hasn’t played since Dec. 7, 2019, when a 47-21 loss to Montana State in the second round of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs ended one of the most successful seasons in program history.
Momentum was stalled as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the postponement of the fall season, while lengthy pandemic-related pauses that encompassed the entire UAlbany athletic department during the fall semester limited the amount of work Gattuso has been able to do with his team.
“It’s been a long time,” Gattuso said. “We got a little bit of practice in during the fall, but not very much.
“It was a tough football fall, for sure.”
Gattuso said that about 20 players, who live off-campus, have been following coronavirus protocols to participate in voluntary workouts during UAlbany’s winter break. He said the rest of the team will be trickling back to campus over the next 10 days. Official team workouts are set to open Jan. 21 for two weeks, primarily focused on strength and conditioning in advance of the Feb. 4 start date for UAlbany’s full preseason camp.
UAlbany’s six-game CAA schedule is currently slated to open March 6 at New Hampshire.
“We miss the guys,” Gattuso said. “You get really attached to them over time, and they’re like our kids. We’re worried about them. It’ll be good to see a lot of them, because it’s been a while. To get out on the field and start to do some football stuff again is going to be a good experience, I think, for all of us and help us appreciate something I think we might have taken for granted in the past.”
While Gattuso is hopeful that a return to the gridiron will help restore “some sense of normalcy” for his program, he’s also been straight with his players about the challenges that lie ahead to successfully pull off a season in a pandemic environment.
“I talked to the kids the other day about how there’s no excuses in this,” Gattuso said. “We’re all here to work, and we’re going to take advantage of every day that’s presented to us to get better.”