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UAlbany aiming for a repeat
Danes determined to get another title in 2012
The University at Albany football team is forced to take a roundabout route to the fields for spring practice.
Temporary fencing blocks the usual path from the locker room because UAlbany is starting construction of its new football stadium, scheduled to be ready no later than the 2013 season opener.
“What it causes is a hell of a long walk,” head coach Bob Ford said with a laugh. “It’s funny. All the kids are (complaining) about the walk, but of course, do you want the stadium? ‘Yeah, we want the stadium.’ Well, we’ve got to go through (the inconvenience).”
Although the groundbreaking ceremony is set for Tuesday, the Great Danes are already practicing against a backdrop of construction trailers in the parking lot, earth-moving equipment and a ditch that’s been dug to drain water from the soil.
But Ford’s primary focus is not on his team’s future home but on building a team that can defend its 2011 Northeast Conference championship.
The Great Danes made the first NCAA Division I playoff appearance in program history last year, losing to Stony Brook in the first round of the Football Championship Subdivision Tournament.
“You’ve heard me say it before: it’s hard to beat anybody,” Ford said. “It’s hard to win a championship. It’s not doubly hard, but it becomes tougher to defend a championship and the reason is every team will be ready to play you.”
UAlbany began spring ball on March 31, and it will conclude with the annual spring game on April 28.
During the four weeks of workouts, Ford hopes to make progress in finding a new starting quarterback and solidifying an offensive line that graduated two starters.
The Great Danes need a replacement for quarterback Dan Di Lella, who threw a school-record 25 touchdown passes as a senior. ESPN’s Todd McShay tweeted Saturday that Di Lella is seen as a potential late-round pick in the NFL draft this month.
Junior Buddy Leathley is No. 1 on the UAlbany depth chart this spring. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Leathley, who started five games as a freshman, is a different type of quarterback than Di Lella, who’s 6-4 and 235.
“He’s very, very athletic,” Ford said. “Much more athletic than Danny was. … The other thing is (Leathley) is more fragile and more reckless with the football.”
Ford said sophomore Will Fiacchi is pushing Leathley the hardest for the starting job, a competition that probably won’t be settled until training camp this summer.
“I want to do a good job of letting them know right now I’m the man they want to pick and that I can get it done,” Leathley said.
On the offensive line, Ford is trying to fill holes at right tackle and left guard. Seniors Jordan Migliore and Justin Anderson, a Shenendehowa graduate, are candidates for those positions but Ford said they’re wide open.
Ford said he thinks UAlbany will be picked by the coaches to repeat as NEC champion. Senior tailback Drew Smith of Guilderland said he’s not sure because Duquesne returns a lot of experience, as well.
“The sky’s the limit,” Smith said. “It would be a disappointment if we didn’t come back as the champs and go to the playoffs.”
By Mark Singelais, Times Union