ALBANY — As a true freshman last season, Mazon Walker knew breaking into the University at Albany football team’s loaded rotation on the defensive line wasn’t in the cards.
But that didn’t affect his mindset or his approach. Going through a healthy redshirt year only made him more capable, more ready for a 2018 season during which he is expected to serve as a valuable contributor.
“So it’s business as usual this year,” Walker said after Friday’s preseason practice at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium. “You still have to just take it one day at a time, get a win every day. If you don’t win every day, you’re not doing anything. So you have to get better every day.”
Much of UAlbany’s defensive depth for its 2018 season that starts Sept. 1 at Pittsburgh will come from redshirt freshmen such as Walker on the defensive line and Isaiah Watson as linebacker. Watson said experiencing a healthy redshirt year started off as a “bummer” for him, but he grew to become grateful for the year without playing that allowed him to adjust to life as a college football player on and off the field. Not playing wasn’t fun, but it also wasn’t difficult to stay focused.
“Because you know this year is going to come,” Watson said. “You just have to be patient and wait for your turn . . . but being on the field this year will be awesome.”
UAlbany redshirt senior offensive lineman Luke Ritter went through a healthy redshirt season in 2014. Now the Great Danes’ projected starting left tackle, Ritter said it is up to the players to make the most of their inactive season.
“You always have to come out here to get better,” Ritter said. “You’ll play when you’re ready.”
In particular, Walker has looked ready throughout the start of UAlbany’s preseason camp. Working primarily with the Great Danes’ second-team defense, the 5-foot-10, 260-pound Walker has shown both the ability to stuff runs at the line of scrimmage and to get into the backfield on passing plays.
The motto helping him this preseason, he said, is no different from the one he carried with him last year.
“You have to make sure you’re doing everything right every day,” Walker said.
Offense finding a groove
For the first half of Friday’s practice, the UAlbany offense got the better of the team’s defense.
In the second half, that reversed.
That . . . is major progress.
“We have a good give and take right now,” UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso said.
In recent years, UAlbany’s defense has nearly always dominated on the practice field in scrimmage sessions. This preseason, the Great Danes’ defense has still been the stronger unit, but it has changed from rare to expected that the UAlbany offense is able to put together sustained periods of play where it consistently moves the ball.
“The offense is pushing back a little bit,” Gattuso said.