ALBANY — When Tyler Pastula arrived at UAlbany this past spring on his official visit upon entering the NCAA’s transfer portal after two years of football at Delaware, he was flabbergasted by the reception the Great Danes rolled out for him.
Especially considering he’s a punter.
“When I came here, they rolled out the carpet for me,” Pastula said following a practice last week at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium. “I got out of the car and almost every coach was there. I mean, it felt like I was at a new home already.”
That red carpet treatment was exactly what UAlbany needed to attract a punter of Pastula’s caliber and fix one of the team’s glaring weaknesses from its 2-9 2021 season.
While Pastula was earning All-CAA first-team honors at Delaware, the punt game was one of a number of Achilles heels that constantly gave the Great Danes trouble last season.
Incumbent starter Sean Ralls struggled badly for most of the season, with backup kicker John Opalko and reserve quarterback Tyler Szalkowski both getting opportunities after Ralls was benched.
It didn’t go particularly well for any of them.
“Our kicking game was hurtful last year,” UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso said. “We really wanted [Pastula]. We knew it was a position of need. Obviously, we struggled greatly in our punt game last year. He brings a lot of talent to that position.”
UAlbany’s punters combined to average just 37.2 yards per attempt on 46 punts, had only four punts longer than 50 yards, had 14 punts downed inside the 20-yard line and had two kicks blocked.
Pastula, who chose UAlbany over a number of more prominent programs, including Oregon of the PAC-12, averaged 42.5 yards per punt — including 13 kicks of 50 or more yards — with 24 of his 62 punts downed inside the 20 and just three going into the end zone for touchbacks.
In coming to UAlbany, Pastula knew there was a chance to help turn things around for coach Bill Nesselt’s special teams unit.
“I’m a very big analytical guy,” he said. “And I like to look around the league and stuff for what they do and what I do. So, I knew that there was potential for me to come in and help the team out there.”
That opportunity, UAlbany’s recruiting pitch and the Easton, Pennsylvania, native’s chance to stay relatively close to home — plus an established relationship with new UAlbany offensive coordinator Jared Ambrose, who also joined the program from Delaware this offseason — were enough to convince Pastula to make UAlbany his new home ahead of higher-profile suitors.
“This visit [to UAlbany], legit could not have been any better,” he said. “It was fabulous. It was like the red carpet.”
In addition to his punting, Gattuso’s also hoping that Pastula will solidify another aspect of UAlbany’s special teams as the holder for Opalko on field goals and extra points. The Great Danes lost their 2021 home opener to Rhode Island by three points in large part because then-holder Braeden Zenelovic dropped two snaps that prevented Dylan Burns from even attempting two crucial kicks.
Pastula and Opalko have already formed a chemistry as a holder-kicker unit, which saves Gattuso from having to use a quarterback — Joey Carino replaced Zenelovic as the holder for the remainder of the 2021 season after the Rhode Island game — in that role.
“At the start, Carino was taking the holds and he does a fabulous job, too,” Pastula said, “but I think just being able to be with John all the time is getting that chemistry to work together.”
“He’s a great holder,” Gattuso said. “So, we don’t have to expose a quarterback. He’s already made a positive impact.”