Football Feature Friday: Great Danes Ready for Spring Game
ALBANY, N.Y. – University at Albany football players showed a distinct “spring” in their steps during Thursday’s prep for Saturday’s annual Spring Game. Finally, the Great Danes will be playing the closest thing to a real game until the actual season begins in about four months. The enthusiasm at practice was noticeable.
The Spring Game, the culmination of the month-long Spring Practice, is set for 3 p.m. Saturday at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium. It will be part of the annual Spring Stomp, which includes the Track & Field Spring Classic at 10 a.m., the Great Dane Athletic Club Town Hall Meeting at 4:45 p.m., the Great Dane Tailgate Challenge at 5 p.m., a battle between the nationally ranked UAlbany men’s and Yale lacrosse teams at 7 p.m. and fireworks at 9 p.m.
“This should be fun,” junior backup quarterback/punter Neven Sussman said. “We are all pumped for this. It will be great to play a game for a change.”
Sussman has been doing double duty as both a QB and punter this spring, and he hopes to show off both sets of talents on Saturday in front of a big crowd. “It’s going to be a lot of fun, no doubt. A game environment is fun for all of us,” he said. “It brings some juice to the team, both on offense and defense. It’s always fun to compete, and especially fun to compete formally. That’s what we’re all looking forward to. It will be cool getting a chance to play real football. We’re all ready.”
Fellow junior Will Brunson, named the No. 1 signal caller on the depth chart this spring, was equally enthusiastic about playing a game rather than simply practicing skills or set plays. “Yeah, it will be fun, but actually, it’s no different than a Tuesday or a Thursday for me,” he said. “It’s a chance to get out and play some ball. That’s what we all want to do. But the good thing is that it will be live and in color. This gives us a chance to get out here and compete. It’s always fun when you have a game-day atmosphere.”
Junior running back Kendall “Kjaye ” Rodgers Jr. has a different perspective on the Spring Game. Due to a knee injury, he didn’t participate in last year’s game. With star running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks sitting out the entire month of Spring Practice because of knee surgery, Rodgers is currently the featured back.
“This is the same as a real game for me. Not being able to play last year, I’m treating this just like the Old Dominion game. It’s real for me,” Rodgers said. “My Mom will be here from California. I’m really looking forward to this.”
University at Albany head coach Greg Gattuso admitted to having mixed feelings about the Spring Game. “They’re definitely more excited than I am,” Gattuso said. “I want to get out of it healthy. It won’t be that long. We’re working on getting experience for our offensive line, our defensive line and our linebackers, who are all young. We’re teaching them right now.”
But Gattuso said actually playing in a game environment is valuable. “Saturday, the game experience will be good,” he said. “It will be good for our quarterbacks to have referees. The kids perform better in that type of environment. For a lot of our players, this is the end of a long grind of winter and spring ball.”
Gattuso said that Colonial Athletic Association referees will officiate the game, which will last about an hour and a half. “It’s important to have refs in for scrimmages, and even for some of our practices,” Gattuso said. “We will try to get in about 70 to 80 plays. We don’t have enough guys to have 100 plays. With the injuries we have, we don’t have that depth.”
Gattuso said Spring Practice has been extremely successful so far, and that he’s noticed a different attitude from his players. “We started a little saying this season, and it’s ‘Every Rep Matters.’ Last year, my complaint was that we didn’t have every play matter. We struggled in a few games and on certain plays when we shouldn’t have. Now, we are more mature. We need to play well every game. We’ve got to win eight games to guarantee ourselves a spot in the playoffs.
“Certainly, we are more athletic,” Gattuso continued. “This is the first time we look like a CAA team. Athletically, we are there. It’s a tough league. We’ve got some good senior starters this year, and a lot of juniors who also start. Age and experience are a big part of winning the close games.”
Admission to the Spring Game is free.
UAlbany football season tickets are now on sale for the 2017 season. Prices start as low as $75. For more information, visit ualbanysports.com/tickets or call the UAlbany ticket office directly at 518-442-DANE.