ALBANY — Any notions of UAlbany football wrapping up spring practice with a definitive answer on the team’s starting quarterback were quickly disposed Sunday when head coach Greg Gattuso gave his diagnosis of the competition for the starting job following the Great Danes’ spring game.
“It’s about the most disgustingly close quarterback situation,” Gattuso said.
All three of the Great Danes’ prospective starting quarterbacks got plenty of reps as the program wrapped up its spring program with Sunday’s intrasquad scrimmage in idyllic conditions at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium.
Sophomore Joey Carino, who appeared in all 11 of UAlbany’s games last fall — including a start against William & Mary — got the most time, throwing touchdown passes to freshman wide receiver Lasalle Rose Jr. and senior tight end Thomas Greaney.
Graduate student transfer Matt Valecce, a transfer this past offseason from Colorado State, engineered a few solid drives, but didn’t get the Great Danes to the end zone — though a pinpoint pass to fellow transfer Quinn Zinobile that would’ve been a touchdown was denied by a stellar breakup from cornerback Devante Ford.
Redshirt freshman Tyler Szalkowski, UAlbany’s third-stringer during last fall’s 2-9 campaign, connected with junior Brevin Easton for a score, but also threw the scrimmage’s lone interception.
All three are competing to fill the starting role vacated when Jeff Undercuffler, the starter since late in the 2018 season, entered into the NCAA’s transfer portal following struggles in both the spring and fall seasons last year.
“It’s really hard to determine right now,” Gattuso said of the quarterback competition. “You can see it out there. The problem is, they need consistency to get comfortable, and we’re rotating them through right now. Obviously, summer camp is where we get the best work in. I feel good that it’s this close. There’s three of them that can compete.”
“We’re all competing,” Carino said. “I mean, personally, I just want to compete against myself. [For me] It’s about what I do, not what the other guys are doing.”
The situation may not even be completely clear by the time the Great Danes open their season Sept. 3 against FBS power Baylor of the Big 12.
“At the end of the day, this is a long road for us,” Gattuso said. “I think they’ve got to play in games before you’re 100% sure.”
BACK ON SCHEDULE
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jackson Ambush arrived at UAlbany in 2019. Sunday was his first spring game with the Great Danes.
“It feels good to get it under my belt finally,” Ambush said. “It’s kind of wild to think about it. Like, I’m going on my fourth year here.”
Ambush is one of a great many UAlbany players who have never been through a traditional offseason with the program. The Great Danes’ 2020 offseason was canceled due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, which then forced that fall’s season to shift into spring 2021. Then, the team turned around less than six months later and played a full season.
Now, things are back on track.
“This is where we develop and train our kids,” Gattuso said. “I think it was a good spring.”
As the Great Danes huddled following the scrimmage, they got a chance to hear some words of wisdom from Albany native and Super Bowl champion running back Dion Lewis, who addressed the team.
It caught many of the Great Danes off-guard.
“I didn’t really notice him first,” Ambush said. “Then, we all just locked in. I had a little moment.”
“Just don’t give up,” Ambush said. “Even though you’ve got hard times, especially like last year, you’ve just got to keep going.”
Lewis was a running back at the University of Pittsburgh in 2009-10, when Gattuso was an assistant coach for the Panthers, and the two have remained in touch ever since.
Graduate student running back Todd Sibley Jr., who transferred from Pitt this offseason, knew Lewis from his previous collegiate stop.
“I had a chance to interact with him when he was at Pitt,” Sibley said. “He’s a great guy, obviously a wonderful NFL running back, and being able to pick his brain, expand my knowledge of the game, you know, you can never learn too much.”
ODDS AND ENDS
Fourth-string quarterback Joe Tortello, a Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons High School graduate, threw touchdown passes on both of his series with the offense. … In addition to his time at quarterback, Szalkowski shared punting duties with John Opalko. … The Great Danes didn’t tackle to the ground during the scrimmage and seemed to exit in good health, though a number of returning contributors didn’t suit up due to injuries that have limited them during the spring. Among those who weren’t in uniform Sunday were interior offensive linemen Kobe Thomas and Scott Houseman, outside linebacker AJ Mistler and cornerback Christian Lewis.