UAlbany football honors those who serve
By Bob Weiner
For UAlbany Athletics
ALBANY, N.Y. – A special season finale is planned for the University at Albany football team Saturday at Tom & Mary Casey Stadium. It should be an emotional sendoff for those participating on the field and in the stands.
Not only will the Great Danes’ senior class be honored in its farewell appearance, but veterans of all types will be celebrated on Military Appreciation Day. The Great Danes host the University of New Hampshire at 1 p.m.
UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso came up with the idea of honoring military personnel by putting veterans’ names on the backs of players’ jerseys. The names were submitted by fans.
“I went to (UAlbany athletic director) Mark Benson and told him about my idea. I thought it would be really cool to put soldiers’ names on the back of our jerseys,” Gattuso said. “The idea is definitely catching on. I know Vanderbilt is doing it, the Miami Heat has been doing it, and even a school in Northern Michigan is doing it. We love it. It’s our small way of saying thank you.”
Also, 800 active and retired military members will have the opportunity to attend Saturday’s game for free, thanks to fans who donated tickets through the “Danes Salute: Buy a Vet a Ticket” program that was led by UAlbany Athletics and SEFCU.
Prior to the game, the family of Army Lt. Col. Todd Clark will raise the flag in his honor. Clark, a Christian Brothers Academy graduated, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2013.
Gattuso is proud that UAlbany says thank you in this way to those who have made so many sacrifices.
“I’ve always admired our military, and I’m in awe of what they do,” Gattuso said. “I’m a former policeman myself, and I’ve always been pro policemen, pro firemen and pro EMT. No one stands on the line for us more than the military.”
Gattuso has a personal stake in the celebration, too. “I’ve worn my father-in-law’s name on my jersey, and I’ve had my uncle’s name, as well,” he said. “Coach (Jim) Sweeney has a niece on active duty right now in the Pacific. The important thing is that it’s happening at more and more places. I’d love to see some day in the future every team in the country wearing veterans’ names on their jerseys this time of year. I hope it catches on. I’d love to see all the (Colonial Athletic Association) schools do this on a regular basis.”
UAlbany senior linebacker Nate Hatalsky, from Mechanicville, is thrilled to be part of Military Appreciation Day. His love of the military runs strong throughout his extended family.
“Both of my grandfathers were in the military,” Hatalsky said. “My dad’s father was in the Marines, and my mom’s father, I think, was in the Army. My father was also in the Marines, and out of my six uncles, four are in the Marines, one is in the Navy and one is in the Army. It runs pretty deep in our family.”
Hatalsky also has thought about a military career. Although his football exploits are currently taking center stage, he’s not ruling out joining some day.
“For me, personally, this day means so much,” Hatalsky said. “I can’t explain how much it means to me. To wear someone’s name that fought for this country is indescribable. They lay down their lives so we can do this on the football field. Football has brought me here, but (the military) is where I would be if not for football. I wanted to be a SEAL. I’m a decent football player, so that’s what got me here at UAlbany, but it could still be an option for me after college. I love the military and it’s my duty to serve. People fight day in and day out so we can do things freely here.”
Hatalsky wore his paternal grandfather’s name on his jersey last year. He doesn’t know yet what name he will honor this Saturday. “The requests fill up fast,” he said. “I love it. Each coach here does a good job with this special day. Obviously, a win Saturday would be the best outcome, but it’s not about the wins and losses on this day. It’s what and who you are doing this for. Having our veterans do the things they do is something you should be grateful for, and I’m extremely grateful.”