Despite team’s struggles, Verse emerging as a spring superstar for UAlbany football

UAlbany defensive end Jared Verse (96) chases down Stony Brook running back Seba Nekhet during a Saturday, March 27, game at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium in Albany. (Photo courtesy Kathleen Helman/UAlbany Athletics)

UAlbany defensive end Jared Verse (96) chases down Stony Brook running back Seba Nekhet during a Saturday, March 27, game at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium in Albany. (Photo courtesy Kathleen Helman/UAlbany Athletics)

If UAlbany’s CAA football opponents didn’t know about Jared Verse coming into the season, they sure do now.

Verse, a redshirt freshman defensive end, was certainly something of an unknown quantity for the Great Danes heading into the spring season. With prototypical size for his position and elite athleticism, he profiled as a potential star. 

Before the season even started, UAlbany coach Greg Gattuso singled out Verse as a breakout candidate on the back of his scout team work in 2019, when he was so disruptive that it became difficult to keep him on the field, lest he continue to hinder the work being done by UAlbany’s starting offense.

Four games into the season, and while UAlbany (1-3 CAA, 1-3 overall) is mired in a campaign beset by injuries and inconsistencies, the emergence of Verse has been perhaps the team’s biggest bright spot.

The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Berwick, Pennsylvania, native has been a one-man wrecking crew on UAlbany’s defensive line. Through four weeks of CAA play, he’s tied for the conference lead in sacks with four, and tops the CAA leaderboard with 10 tackles for loss.

In Saturday’s 21-7 loss to Stony Brook at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium, Verse led the Great Danes with 10 tackles, including seven solo stops, three tackles for loss and a sack.

“He’s one of those young guys that this spring season was huge for,” Gattuso said Saturday during a post-game teleconference. “He could be as good a football player, if he keeps working, as we’ve had here.” 

The potential has always been there for Verse, but his spring campaign has been invaluable in aiding his development.

Because, despite all his raw talent, one major question mark still existed for him heading into this season: Actually learning how to play defensive end.

“I came in [to UAlbany], I never played a game of defensive end in my life,” Verse said. “Maybe one or two [games] in high school, messing around, but this is the first time I’m actually really getting on the field, getting after it, playing good teams and feeling how the blocking schemes are, how to read teams.”

Though he primarily played tight end at Central Columbia High School, Verse was recruited to UAlbany as a pass rusher for his elite athletic profile and potential to bring speed off the edge — he was part of a state championship 4×400-meter relay team in high school.

Since enrolling at UAlbany in 2019, he’s added about 30 pounds to his formerly wiry frame, but it’s been the mental aspect rather than the physical where both Verse and Gattuso believe the defensive end has grown the most.

“When I first came in here, I wasn’t really paying attention to plays during practice,” Verse said. “My mind was everywhere else. Getting a little game experience up at New Hampshire, at Maine, a lot of every team we’ve played so far, it’s kind of slowed it down for me.”

“He’s learning, and he’s listening,” Gattuso said. “He struggled early in camp. We held him out of the starting lineup until we could get him to do some of the simple things right. He’s starting to do that.”

Couple Verse’s increasing feel for the game with his immense natural talent, and it’s easy to see how Gattuso could compare him to a fellow speed rusher like UAlbany’s 2019 second-team All-American Eli Mencer, but with the power of an interior lineman like current redshirt senior Ibn Foster.

It was that power on display Saturday in Verse’s most impressive highlight, when he bull-rushed straight through Stony Brook’s 6-foot-6, 335-pound right tackle Justin Morgan on his way to sacking Seawolves quarterback Tyquell Fields.

“He plays at a higher speed,” redshirt junior defensive end Anthony Lang said recently of Verse. “We definitely work off of each other in practice. Getting to the quarterback is a competition of who can get there first.”

Verse has gotten there first a lot this spring, something he credits to a better understanding of his role in the UAlbany defensive scheme.

“First half of each play, kind of do the base of whatever we have to do,” he said. “Second half of each play I can do what I want to do — get after the quarterback, get to the running back, go at a lineman here or there. Whatever I have to do.”

As good as Verse has been this spring, there’s a sense from Gattuso that he’s one of several young UAlbany defenders who are just scratching the surface of their ability.

“He’s a beast,” Gattuso said, “and he’s got his whole career in front of him.”

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