A new chapter in University at Albany football kicked off Wednesday, when the school announced the signing of 21 players to national letters of intent.
It was the first recruiting class for the Great Danes as new members of the Colonial Athletic Association. Those newcomers also will be part of the first team to play in the new 8,500-seat Bob Ford Field, named after the longtime head coach who will begin his 41st year with the program this fall.
The recruiting class includes athletes from seven states, including eight from New York, four from both New Jersey and Florida, two from Maryland and one each from Massachusetts, North Carolina and Virginia.
Also included in this recruiting class were a pair of Section II standouts, Shaker High School product Ryan Griffin and Queensbury High School’s JP McCauley.
Griffin is a 6-foot, 215-pounder who ran for 1,100 yards and 20 touchdowns last fall to lead the Blue Bison to the Section II Class AA title. McCauley (6-4, 290 pounds) was an All-New York state selection and Section II Class A first-team offensive lineman.
“I’m excited about this period of time in our history,” said Ford, who owns a 264-180-1 record at UAlbany, where he’s led the program since it was a club team. “There are so many big things happening to the football program now. We are joining the Colonial Athletic Association, and we are moving into a brand new stadium. National signing day is almost like a combination of Halloween and Christmas for football coaches.”
Last fall, the Great Danes won their sixth Northeast Conference title with a 7-1 league record. They were 9-2 overall, and were ranked as high as 18th in the FCS Coaches Poll and 20th in the Sports Network Top-25.
But leaving the NEC means the Great Danes will need much more talented athletes in the more challenging CAA.
“We’re moving up in conferences,” Ford said. “In the NEC, we were allowed 38 scholarships, and we had 35. In the CAA, we will have 54 players on scholarship. That’s a big difference. It will be difficult to win with incoming freshmen playing a large role. I’m not sure they will play immediately.”
Offensively, the Great Danes signed 11 newcomers, including a pair of quarterbacks: 6-3 Kyle Downey, from Oak Hill, Va., and Shane Sweeney, from Phelps High School in Geneva. Downey threw for 1,409 yards and 12 TDs in his senior season while rushing for 1,460 yards and 25 touchdowns. Sweeney threw for 75 scores and 4,662 yards in his high school career, including 2,005 yards and 35 TDs last season.
Wideouts Brad Harris, from
Orlando, Fla., and Austin Weeks, from Durham, N.C., will help replace graduating Ryan Kirchner, the program’s all-time leading receiver. Harris averaged 25 yards per catch at Union High School, while Weeks caught 36 passes for 485 yards his senior season.
Besides McCauley, the top offensive lineman recruited was Michael Senn, a 6-3, 300-pounder from Orchard Park.
With Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake graduate Paul Layton leaving UAlbany to transfer to Temple, the Great Danes desperately needed a punter/kicker. That role will be filled by Ian Maltz, from Millstone Township, N.J. He was 9-for-9 on field-goal attempts his senior season and averaged 40.2 yards per punt.
Defensively, the Great Danes signed nine players, including linebackers Marcel Ngachie (Silver Springs, Md.) and Martel Williams (Plantation, Fla.), who could make an immediate impact since UAlbany graduated several starting linebackers.
Another impact player could be Dorian Polk, a transfer from Erie Community College, who was ECC’s Scholar Athlete of the Year as well as an all-conference cornerback.
“I think we could use one more tackle, and maybe another guard on offense,” said Ford. “We also could use another big running back. Defensively, we could use another defensive end, maybe.
“It’s very important for this class to be good,” said Ford. “Depth at this level will be critical. Belonging to a new conference and having a new stadium opened some doors for us in recruiting.
“It’s definitely harder for us to recruit at this level, but if we manage to get a kid to visit, we have a good shot. We have a very good family atmosphere here,” he said.
Anthony DeLuca, CB, 5-9, 165; Longwood, Fla.; Kyle Downey, QB, 6-3, 215, Oak Hill, Va.; Ryan Griffin, RB, 6-0, 215; Latham; Brad Harris, WR, 6-3, 195; Orlando, Fla.; Kalief Joyner, TE, 6-3, 247; Brooklyn; Jack Knecht, DE, 6-3, 247; Haddonfield, N.J.; Malachi Lawrence, WR, 6-3, 170; Bronx; Ian Maltz, K/P, 5-10, 165; Millstone Township, N.J.; Chizi Mba, OL, 6-4, 265; Union, N.J.; JP McCauley, OT, 6-4, 295, Queensbury; Neil Morrison, RB, 5-11, 195, Miramar, Fla.; Nicholas Nerolien, OL, 6-2, 275; Lexington, Mass.; Marcel Ngachie, LB, 5-11, 225; Ben Pagan, OLG/DE, 6-2, 236; Highstown, N.J.; Dorian Polk, CB, 5-10, 170; Lockport/Erie CC; Michael Senn, OG, 6-3, 300; Orchard Park; Michael Simone, DE, 6-4, 215; Mahopac; Shane Sweeney, QB, 6-1, 210, Phelps; DaeSean Timmons, G, 6-2, 276, Hyattsville, Md.; Martel Williams, LB, 6-0, 203, Plantation, Fla.; Austin Weeks, WR, 6-1, 172, Durham, N.C.