Baby steps up the ladder of success are the only realistic expectations for the University at Albany football team as it enters its second season in the competitive Colonial Athletic Association.
That being said, first-year head coach Greg Gattuso was much more conservative about his team’s goals and aspirations than the rest of the Great Danes, who held their annual media gathering Tuesday.
Gattuso, who compiled a sparkling 97-32 record as the head coach at Duquesne and also was a top assistant at both Maryland and Pittsburgh, takes over for the legendary Bob Ford, who coached the UAlbany program for its first 44 seasons.
“We haven’t put the pads on yet because we’ve only had one day of practice,” said Gattuso. “Once we put the pads on, it will be a lot of fun. The guys are in great shape. The key for us is how we mesh as a team. We’re not the biggest, the fastest or the most talented team in our conference. We have some playmakers and some good players, but we need to play together.”
Gattuso has several reasons for optimism, but he wasn’t making any bold predictions for a team that was 0-8 in the CAA and just 1-11 overall in Ford’s last season.
With one season in the CAA under their belt, the Great Danes have a little more experience than last season, with 13 starters (eight on offense) returning. They also have their No. 1 quarterback, Will
Fiacchi, and their leading ground gainer, Omar Osbourne, back to lead the way.
“It’s huge having Will
Fiacchi as the No. 1 quarterback,” Gattuso said. “I’m not into having any quarterback controversy. I have some young guys who will put some pressure on him in camp, but Will is our guy.”
“I think we know what we’re getting into now,” said Fiacchi, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior who completed 207 of 372 passes for 2,358 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago. “We know what we need to be successful, and that means we have to put the work in.”
Fiacchi said he felt good knowing he’s the No. 1 signal caller, and he sounded confident about how the Great Danes will play on offense.
“No team in the country has a goal that is less than winning a championship, and we’re the same way,” he said. “It’s a new year, and a new team.
“Our offensive line and defensive line are a little undersized, but they’re coming around, and I know I can count on them to improve.”
Osbourne, a preseason All-CAA selection after rushing for 1,206 yards and 12 touchdowns, is also looking for big things from the skill players.
“We know what to expect. The new coaches have us going in the right direction,” he said. “Coach Gattuso has put us under his wing. We want to win a conference championship, and I feel confident that we can do it. I don’t mind the target on my back. I like to lead by example.”
Osbourne said he knows opposing defenses will try to shut him down every week.
“I don’t care if I don’t get 100 rushing yards, as long as we win,” he said. “We have plenty of other good players on this team.”
Other key players on offense include the versatile Jake Meek, who ran for 342 yards and also caught eight passes for 95 more as a running back and receiver, and wideout Cole King, who hauled in 37 passes for 436 yards.
“We have some good playmakers, like Jake Meek, and Omar is a big, strong back who wants the football,” Gattuso said. “Cole King will also be a factor for us.
“I think having a year of experience in this league helps tremendously. Our kids have a good sense of what it takes to compete in this league. They need confidence.
“One thing all of our players need to know in this league is that we need to run faster to compete,” he said.
The Danes open the season Aug. 30 by hosting Holy Cross. They have seven home games.
30 — HOLY CROSS, 6.
7 — at Central Connecticut State, 6; 20 — at Rhode Island, 1; 27 — COLUMBIA, 6.
4 — JAMES MADISON, 6; 11 — RICHMOND, 3:30; 18 — at Maine, 12:30; 25 — COLGATE, 3:30.
1 — at New Hampshire, TBA; 8 — DELAWARE, 3:30; 15 — at Villanova, 7; 22 — STONY BROOK, 3:30.
Home games in CAPS.