Regardless of the cancellation of UAlbany’s final two games of the spring 2021 football season, running back Karl Mofor had unfinished business.
It made the decision to come back for one last campaign in purple and gold a no-brainer.
“When we came in our freshman year, we had a goal,” Mofor said Tuesday during the CAA’s media day teleconference with reporters. “Some of that goal’s been met, but some of it’s still left to do. Another year to finish out as strong as possible, we couldn’t pass that opportunity up.”
Mofor is one of several Great Danes who graduated at the end of the 2020-21 academic year, but have opted to use the extra year of eligibility granted to all NCAA athletes due to the novel coronavirus pandemic by returning to the gridiron for UAlbany this fall.
UAlbany went 1-3 during its spring season before opting out of its final two games as the result of an injury-ravaged roster.
The struggles of the spring and the frustrating early conclusion both left a sting for the Great Danes, but defensive lineman Ibn Foster said that for himself and many of the other players who opted to return this fall, the difficult spring wasn’t their primary motivation in the decision to come back to UAlbany.
“Honestly, if we didn’t shorten the season, I feel as though the majority of us would’ve been back,” Foster said. “Playing football’s something we love, especially the team and the team aspect. Being here at UAlbany, it’s a place you don’t really want to leave if you don’t have to. That’s what drove that decision.”
After winning its spring opener, UAlbany’s season ended with three straight losses marked by mounting injuries and inconsistent play.
That likely factored into the Great Danes being picked eighth in the CAA’s preseason poll of the league’s head coaches and media relations directors.
With the team far healthier than it was in the spring and with a number of key players still around from the program’s historic 2019 run to the second round of the FCS playoffs, there’s motivation in the UAlbany program to prove the doubters wrong.
Moments after the preseason poll was released, Mofor tweeted an emoji of an eight-ball, sending a pointed message.
“That’s just extra motivation,” he said. “The last time we were picked to finish second-to-last [in 2019], we finished second. This year, picked to finish eighth, we’re trying to just do the best we can to prove that wrong.”
The 5-foot-9, 225-pound workhorse running back, who ran for 460 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the spring while averaging 28.5 carries per game, was also UAlbany’s lone representative on the CAA’s preseason all-conference team, though quarterback Jeff Undercuffler, defensive end Jared Verse and linebacker Danny Damico all earned honorable mention.
While projections around the league aren’t bullish on the Great Danes — James Madison and Delaware topped the poll, with Villanova third and Richmond fourth — head coach Greg Gattuso said he doesn’t put stock in preseason polls.
“The last group of people I would want to predict anything for me,” Gattuso said, “are a bunch of football coaches.”
UAlbany opens its season Sept. 4 at perennial FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, before opening CAA play a week later at home against Rhode Island. The Great Danes are scheduled to report for their preseason camp on Aug. 4.
When asked about what percentage of his players had received a COVID-19 vaccine, Gattuso declined to go into specifics.
Once vaccines have been fully approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, they will be mandatory for all in-person students in the State University of New York system, including all UAlbany athletes.
“I have not asked my players individually, or taken a count,” he said. “We’ve been in discussions with our leadership group and our football team about the importance that when you’re part of a community of people, you want to protect the people around you. At the end of the day, we’re all individuals with free will. I hope our kids are going to voluntarily go out and vaccinate, but that’s a personal decision that’s up to them.”
CAA commissioner Joe D’Antonio said during the teleconference that the league was still working to finalize “testing parameters” that will likely be in place for unvaccinated players.