The switch has been flipped for the UAlbany football team from “Camp Mode” to “Game Mode.”
The Great Danes open their long-awaited season Friday at New Hampshire, and last week head coach Greg Gattuso said the team made its first targeted preparations for that game, mixing in the scout team for the first time and getting the Great Danes ready for what they’ll see from the Wildcats.
“We just started some scout team stuff,” Gattuso said last week during a teleconference with reporters, “and we’ll slowly progress.”
The initial transition from training camp to game prep is always a little fraught, Gattuso said, and that was the case Tuesday when UAlbany worked in its scout team for the first time.
That’s why, for the first game of the season, Gattuso likes to make the prep period a little bit longer than it will be for a normal game week.
But, not too long.
“I’ve always done it the same way coming out of camp,” he said. “We like to get a six- or seven-day prep, instead of a three- or four-day prep.
“Anything more than that and it gets boring.”
This year’s move from preseason camp to standard game preparation has differed from the norm in a few ways.
For one, it’s being done in the dead of an upstate New York winter, instead of the dog days of summer.
For another, instead of spending weeks practicing without school in session before changing things up as classes start right around the time of the first game, this year classes have been in session for the Great Danes ever since their preseason camp opened in early February.
“They’ve done a really good job to make our camp schedule suitable with our classes, too,” redshirt junior linebacker Danny Damico said. “There really hasn’t been that much of a change as if we would be in the summer, like usual.”
Still, Gattuso said he observed a noticeable difference between UAlbany’s previous preseason workouts and Tuesday’s first session with the scout team involved.
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Tyler Oedekoven said it’s on the Great Danes to get things up to speed in time for the program’s first game since its Dec. 7, 2019, loss to Montana State in the second round of the FCS playoffs.
“The most important part is bringing our energy up in practice,” Oedekoven said. “We haven’t really had that type of scout practice in 14 months. There’s a lot of new guys running around.”
One thing that did help the transition to the prep for New Hampshire is the relative similarity between the two teams’ offensive and defensive schemes.
While Gattuso is expecting the Wildcats to have a few new wrinkles since the teams last met on Nov. 16, 2019 — a 24-17 UAlbany win — he’s also confident that his team will be “ready for anything” New Hampshire throws at them.
Introducing the scout team also provides a chance for players to make a statement to the coaching staff about their future prospects.
Gattuso rattled off a laundry list of current and former key contributors — Eli Mencer, Levi Metheny, Ibn Foster and Mazon Walker, to name a few — who impressed the Great Danes’ staff with their work going through the “rite of passage” of working on the scout team.
Walker, a redshirt junior defensive lineman whom Gattuso compared favorably to another former pupil of his — three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald — said his scout team experience was crucial to his development.
“Once you get in the flow of it,” Walker, “you start to understand it’s bigger than you. Being able to help out the [first team] and seeing what they really need to be ready, week in and week out, for every different opponent, it’s an experience to say the least.”