July 28, 2015
By David Driver
Used with permission
For the Times-Union
BALTIMORE - The UAlbany football team didn't get a lot of respect here Tuesday, as the Great Danes were picked in the preseason poll to finish 10th out of 12 teams this year in the Colonial Athletic Association.
"It gives us a chance to prove everyone wrong," said sophomore wide receiver Josh Gontarek, speaking at the annual CAA media day at M&T Bank Stadium.
"None of that stuff matters. We obviously think we are better than that," redshirt junior linebacker Michael Nicastro said.
"Predictions go by reputation in the league," said Greg Gattuso, ready to start his second year as head coach. "It is kind of where we were picked last year. We have work to do to crack the top four or five."
The Great Danes were ninth last year in the CAA at 3-5; they were 7-5 overall.
But UAlbany, which reports to camp Aug. 6, could surprise some teams with the addition of transfer quarterback DJ Crook, a redshirt sophomore.
"DJ has been great. He has a leg up on the job," Gattuso said. "It will be an interesting battle. Somebody needs to seize it and hopefully DJ can do that for us."
A 6-foot-1 redshirt sophomore, Crook was the backup quarterback for Penn State last year as a redshirt freshman and completed 6 of 9 passes for 57 yards and a touchdown on Sept. 20 against former CAA team UMass.
"He picked up on the system a lot quicker than most people," said Gontarek, who was named to the 2015 CAA preseason all-conference team here Tuesday. "We have a great competition going on right now" at quarterback.
Others listed on the depth chart at quarterback are freshman Will Brunson, redshirt junior Dan Harding, freshman Neven Sussman and redshirt freshman Steve Shanley.
"It is good to have some of that big-level experience," Nicastro said of Crook.
Last year quarterback Will Fiacchi, who has graduated, completed 207 of 377 passes for 2,636 yards and 24 touchdowns with eight interceptions.
UAlbany begins its second season under Gattuso on Sept. 5 at Buffalo.
"We have one year under our belt," Nicastro said of Gattuso. "All the players got to know the coaches."
UAlbany plays its first CAA contest and first home game Sept. 12 against Rhode Island, pegged to finish 11th in the conference.
The CAA produced four playoff teams last year and has had four national title teams since 2003.
Gontarek was the only UAlbany player named to the preseason all-CAA team. He was the only sophomore named to the offensive team.
"It means I have high expectations," said Gontarek, who had a team-high 58 catches last year. "I have to prove I am worth it."
Nicastro had a team-high 120 tackles with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries in 2014.
"I think we have a real good offense," Nicastro said. "We have experience on both sides of the ball."
Gattuso said he has made very few changes as he gets ready for his second season.
"We believe in what we do and how we do it," he said. It will take play on the field to convince opposing CAA teams of the same.
David Driver is a freelance writer who can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com.
CAA preseason poll
Here is the annual Colonial Athletic Association preseason poll, which is voted on by coaches and media relations staff:
1. Villanova (14)
2. James Madison (5)
3. New Hampshire (5)
4. William & Mary
8. Stony Brook
11. Rhode Island