ALBANY — Whether junior running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks makes his season debut this Saturday against Monmouth will come down to a game-time decision.
That was how University at Albany football head coach Greg Gattuso described the outlook Wednesday for his team’s top offensive star.
“Nothing’s changed,” Gattuso said. “We’re waiting to see how he does all week and [we’re] just going to make a decision after warmups if he can go or not.”
Ibitokun-Hanks reinjured his surgically-repaired left knee a month ago. He rejoined practice this week and worked Wednesday with the Great Danes’ first-team offense days before the team’s home opener Saturday night at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium.
“Right now,” Gattuso said, “everything looks positive.”
Without Ibitokun-Hanks, the Great Danes (1-1) have still been able to move the ball on the ground through their first two games. Freshman Karl Mofor has taken the most carries for the Great Danes, and has averaged 5.1 yards per carry. As a team, UAlbany is averaging 3.6 yards per carry and 156.0 yards per game this season.
Gattuso said he expected his squad to be able to run the ball without Ibitokun-Hanks, but expects the junior star to make UAlbany’s offense more potent when he does return.
“It’s our system and we believe in it,” Gattuso said. “Elijah just makes us better if he can play.”
Before tearing the ACL in his left knee in UAlbany’s final game last season, Ibitokun-Hanks rushed for 1,388 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2016.
On the strength of that campaign, Ibitokun-Hanks earned preseason All-CAA and STATS FCS All-American honors, and was named to multiple player-of-the-year watch lists for 2017.
While the Great Danes are hopeful for one of their leaders to return Saturday, UAlbany redshirt junior offensive lineman Jack Dudzinski said the team’s mindset won’t change depending on if Ibitokun-Hanks plays.
“If he plays, that’s good for us, but it doesn’t change much for us up front,” Dudzinski said. “Whoever is running the ball, we’re going to block for.”
Back to practice
A pair of standout Great Danes returned Wednesday to practice.
Senior defensive lineman Malachi Hoskins and senior tight end/fullback Anthony Manzo-Lewis both practiced Wednesday after sitting out from Tuesday’s workout with lower-body injuries.
“I’m hoping that those two are going to be able to go for us this week,” Gattuso said.
Coming off recording its first shutout since 2014, UAlbany takes on an opposing offense this week that will test it.
Monmouth has scored 77 points between its first two games, including a 46-point showing last weekend against Lehigh. Monmouth has been pretty even in terms of gaining yards in the air and on the ground, with 54.1 percent of its 973 total yards coming from its running game.
Sophomore running back Pete Guerriero has led Monmouth. Through two weeks of play, Guerriero’s 328 rushing yards ranks third in the country, and his four rushing touchdowns ranks second.
Gattuso said the challenge for the Great Danes defense is significantly higher this weekend than it was last Saturday.
“They’re a much better offense,” Gattuso said. “Arguably, they’d be the best offense we’ve seen.”