ALBANY — One of the reasons for optimism heading into this season for the University at Albany football team was the program’s high number — 15 — of returning starters between its defense and offense.
Those returning starters, for the most part, have played well through UAlbany’s 1-1 start. Helping the Great Danes’ cause further, though, has been quality play from a pair of transfers seeing ample snaps -- redshirt senior Jarren Williams at defensive back and redshirt junior running back Alex James.
“We expected that,” Gattuso said of that duo’s production and impact for the Great Danes, who play at 1 p.m. Saturday at Monmouth.
James — a transfer from Coastal Carolina — rushed for 229 yards and a touchdown in last weekend’s 45-3 win against Bryant, while Williams — a transfer from Saint Francis (Pa.) — returned an interception for a touchdown. James earned a share of CAA Co-Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
“Certainly not finished yet,” said James, who splits time in the UAlbany running game with junior starter Karl Mofor, who rushed for 123 yards last week. “Got way bigger plans than just one game.”
The same goes for Williams, a starter in UAlbany’s secondary. He said he was a “little quiet” when he first arrived on campus, but tried to let his work ethic speak for itself.
“I put my head down and went to work,” Williams said.
Williams played — and lost — against UAlbany when he was at Saint Francis. Gattuso said the Great Danes were eager to bring Williams into their program.
“With the [transfer] portal, it’s kind of a zoo, at times, for kids. It’s hard,” Gattuso said. “He became available to us and we were really happy to bring him in.”
Williams had considered other schools, but UAlbany was one that viewed him as a cornerback rather than a safety like some other programs.
“The coaches here felt like I could help this team, and I felt like this team, and these coaches and this league could help me get to where I want to go,” Williams said, “and that’s playing in the National Football League.”
James — a Mississippi native who grew up in South Carolina — said a desire for a fresh start brought him to UAlbany. He said after last weekend’s win that he liked the idea of pairing with Mofor to create a talented combination of running backs, and said earlier this week that more Great Danes rushers could find themselves into the backfield’s regular rotation.
“There’s a lot of talent in the [running back] room that needs to be exposed, [and] that will be exposed in due time,” said James, who listed off several players, including redshirt sophomore Joshua Garvin and freshman Christian Lewis as among that group of promising rushers. “It’s a tight-knit room. No selfish characters in that room.”
Coming off a 3-8 season, players such as James and Williams have added needed depth for a Great Danes team looking to post its first winning season since 2016.
“That’s what we’ve lacked in the last few years,” said Gattuso, whose program is 12-4 all-time against Monmouth. “Just depth.”