FOOTBALL: 2018 TRAINING CAMP PREVIEW
ALBANY, N.Y. – The University at Albany football team is “bigger and stronger and faster” than a season ago, head coach Greg Gattuso said, and as a result training camp, which begins Friday, Aug. 3, is expected to be as competitive as any in his five-year tenure.
Starting spots are up for grabs at virtually every position, including quarterback, as UAlbany gets ready to open its season Sept. 1 at Pittsburgh, of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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The Great Danes will be trying to improve upon a 4-7 record in 2017, when UAlbany faced a formidable schedule that included a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent (Old Dominion) and five games against Top 25 teams.
UAlbany lost four games last season by a touchdown or less, including two in overtime, while playing almost entirely without tailback Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, who led the CAA in rushing in 2016 before missing all but one game of 2017 while recovering from a knee injury.
Now, though, the Great Danes enter training camp armed with the experience of having played in so many close games in arguably the most competitive league in the Football Championship Subdivision.
“We were close last year,” Gattuso said. “Some of the experience we have now, maybe we can win some of those games.”
The Great Danes’ offense gets new leadership in offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Joe Davis, who came to UAlbany this past winter from Fordham.
He’ll be working with a talented backfield that includes Ibitokun-Hanks, who ran for 16 touchdowns in 2016, and Karl Mofor, who last year as a true freshman shouldered most of the carries, running for 555 yards and six TDs.
“I don’t think there’s been a moment in my life as a coach where I didn’t care who was out there carrying the ball, even in pressure situations,” Gattuso said. “They’re both excellent, and I feel really good about our running back situation.”
At receiver, too, the Great Danes return junior Donovan McDonald, who also was named to the CAA Preseason All-Conference team as a punt returner. A former track athlete at Nebraska, McDonald emerged as one of the league’s top playmakers in his first season at UAlbany.
“I was watching him on a highlight tape (at CAA Media Day), and he was the most dynamic guy on the screen at times,” Gattuso said. “Sometimes you see him every day, you forget how dynamic he is.”
McDonald, fellow junior Jerah Reeves and redshirt junior Austin Ellis give the Great Danes a veteran cast at receiver. Newcomer Dev Holmes, a freshman from Troy, N.Y., will compete for playing time in training camp, too.
The competition also will be tight at quarterback and along the offensive line.
Will Brunson, who started all 11 games at quarterback in 2017, will open camp with the first-string unit, but he’ll be in a “straight open competition,” Gattuso said, with redshirt senior Vincent Testaverde, a transfer from Miami, and redshirt sophomore Nyc Burns, who started his career at Oklahoma State before joining UAlbany from Northeast Oklahoma A&M.
Brunson threw for 1,889 yards and nine touchdowns this past season, and Testaverde, a mid-year transfer in 2017, played well in the Spring Game, throwing for two TDs.
“We’re going to give them all a chance, rotate them and see who’s going to take control of this thing and be the guy,” Gattuso said.
On the offensive line, UAlbany worked with a young group last season that will be bolstered this year by several newcomers.
Benson Israel, a transfer from Temple, and Kassy Desir, who missed all of last season because of injury, both will compete for time at guard, along with Jack Dudzinski and Griffin Clancy.
At center, Corey Christian and Niko Culnan, who joins the program from Hudson Valley Community College, will get a chance at the position in training camp, which could allow last year’s starting center,Micah Royster, to play tackle. Sam Davis, too, provides depth at center.
Luke Ritter, who started at tackle in 2016, returns, and as does Sean Kennedy, who started eight games on the offensive line last season.