ALBANY — When Vincent Testaverde first showed up on campus a little less than a year ago, University at Albany football head coach Greg Gattuso wasn’t sure if the son of the former Heisman Trophy winner believed he had a chance to become the Great Danes’ starting quarterback.
After all, in the three prior years, Testaverde had thrown a grand total of 26 passes during his time at Texas Tech and Miami. So when Testaverde arrived at UAlbany as the 2017 season started, Gattuso wondered if the quarterback might be content to finish off his collegiate career as a backup.
“I don’t think Vincent thought he was ever going to get a chance to win the job, to be honest,” Gattuso said Thursday.
The Great Danes’ fifth-year head coach delivered that line not long after officially announcing Testaverde as UAlbany’s starting quarterback for its season opener Sept. 1 at Pittsburgh. That first start for the redshirt senior will come exactly one year after UAlbany announced Testaverde was joining the Great Danes.
“I’m ready to go,” Testaverde said.
Testaverde proved that for much of this year. While last year’s starter Will Brunson entered spring practice with Gattuso saying that “unless he opens the door, it’ll be his job,” Testaverde started to change the UAlbany coaching staff’s thinking on that before too long. In a surprise move, Testaverde started the Great Danes’ spring game at quarterback and outplayed Brunson that day.
This preseason, Testaverde continued his momentum. While Gattuso didn’t officially announce Testaverde as the team’s starter until Thursday, Testaverde took the majority of reps throughout the preseason and regularly earned the most praise from the team’s coaching staff.
Gattuso said the biggest change in Testaverde over the past year has been his increase in confidence. That is an area, though, where Gattuso said his quarterback needs to continue to grow.
“I think he needed confidence and I think he still does,” Gattuso said. “I think it’s starting to bud and it’s starting to show, and that’s one of the reasons we wanted to make him the starter because I want him to know we feel [he’s] the guy and we’re going to support [him] through this.”
Testaverde said he spoke Thursday with dad Vinny Testaverde — who won the Heisman Trophy at Miami before playing for two decades in the NFL — and that his father was proud. But Vincent Testaverde, who switched recently to wearing No. 14 to honor his father, said he is still motivated by the doubters he gained during his well-traveled college career.
“Now it’s time to prove them wrong,” Testaverde said.
Gattuso said Testaverde will get a substantial chance to do that. The coach said Testaverde will start at least four games before UAlbany will consider any type of switch at the position.
“He’s not being anointed the king of England. It’s not a lifetime appointment, but he’s done a good job,” Gattuso said. “I thought since he got here last year to now has been a massive improvement.”
Testaverde hasn’t played in a game since his freshman year at Texas Tech in 2014. After watching from the sidelines the last three years, he said it’s possible there could be some rust when he faces game-speed action for the first time.
“Honestly,” Testaverde said, “I think the first couple hits that will happen, it’s going to knock some urgency into me.”
Gattuso said he liked the urgency Brunson showed in the last couple weeks as the quarterback competition heated up. Gattuso said Brunson handled the formal declaration of Testaverde as the team’s starter with maturity, and the coach expects the redshirt junior to stay ready as the team’s No. 2 quarterback.
“I know inside him there is anger — and I hope there is,” Gattuso said. “We want the fire burning.”
Greg Gattuso on picking Testaverde to start pic.twitter.com/zZ10RtwyB5— Michael Kelly (@ByMichaelKelly) August 23, 2018
It has been for Testaverde, a player who came to UAlbany last September knowing he was on his last chance to earn an NCAA starting role. There were some doubts as he practiced last fall as UAlbany’s scout team quarterback, but those went away as he grew more comfortable at his third college.
“It’s tough running with the scout team when you’re older, but I just took it as a learning experience. Treated it like it was a game because it’s 11 on 11. . . . I kind of knew my time would come,” Testaverde said. “It was just really a waiting game, but I was preparing the whole time as I was waiting.
“And, now, here we are.”