By Tom Castro
Eli Mencer has been a big-time playmaker for the University at Albany football team on
defense and special teams for years. Prior to the start of the 2019 football season, Mencer was named a CAA Preseason All-Conference Honorable Mention as a specialist.
Through 10 games this season, Mencer has made it clear that he is more than a special
teams star. The linebacker-turned-defensive end has been a sack specialist for the UAlbany
defense and one of the best pass rushers in school history.
On the first play of last week’s 47-31 loss to Maine, Mencer broke the school’s single-
season sack record of nine, set by Eddie Delaney in 2011, when he recorded his 9.5 sack of the season. Even in a losing effort, this was a special moment for the redshirt senior as he plays out his final collegiate season.
“It’s pretty exciting honestly. When I broke the record, I had known that I only needed
one sack to break it,” Mencer said. “When they put it on the scoreboard for everyone to see, that was pretty exciting. I get goosebumps just talking about it.”
Growing up in Altoona, Pennsylvania, he began playing flag football in fourth grade and
quickly realized he had found his athletic specialty. Coaches also easily recognized his ability as he was always ahead of the curve.
“It struck me that I could play when I was a fifth grader playing up with the sixth graders
and a seventh grader playing up with eighth graders,” Mencer said.
He attended Altoona High School, where he was a two-year captain and all-around star. As a senior, he totaled 1,280 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns, along with four interceptions. After deciding to continue his football career at the UAlbany, he redshirted the 2015 season.
Mencer started his UAlbany career as a linebacker and kick returner. In 2016, he
appeared in nine games, finishing with 19 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble on defense
while also racking up 48 return yards. In his second season for the Great Danes, Mencer started showing his potential.
As a starting linebacker, he was named to the All-CAA Third Team, finishing the season
with 60 tackles, eight for loss, and led the CAA with five forced fumbles, returning two of them
for touchdowns. Mencer’s playmaking carried into 2018, as he recorded 58 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss, and recorded a team-high 4.5 sacks in his redshirt junior season.
He produced consistently for the Great Danes as a part of their linebacking group but
head coach Greg Gattuso and his staff viewed him better-suited for defensive end. The transition worked as Mencer has 40 tackles, 18.5 for loss, five forced fumbles, with three recoveries, and one touchdown to accompany his now 10.5 sacks.
“We felt that being closer to the ball and letting him use his talents was going to help us
and give him a chance to be really disruptive and it’s showing up,” said coach Gattuso. “It [the position change] gives him a chance to continue to play after Albany, which is great… He’s
certainly caught the eyes of some NFL scouts.”
Understanding his own strengths on the field, the adjustment to defensive end was
something Mencer embraced.
“When I was playing linebacker, I didn’t have the opportunity to pass rush much or just
be around the football,” he said. “Now, as soon as the ball is snapped, I’m going straight to the football rather than backing up like I was at linebacker, so that was a big step.”
Mencer’s leadership for the Great Danes goes deeper than the stat sheet, though. He has
led by example all season long, describing himself as an “actions speak louder than words” type of leader.
As the regular season wraps up, UAlbany football likely has to win its remaining games
to make the playoffs. Already leading the CAA in sacks, and fourth in tackles for a loss, Mencer will look to continue his play and trusts that his teammates will come up big as well.
“I trust every guy on this team, and when it comes down to it, when their number gets
called, they’re going to do their job and do it well,” Mencer said. “The biggest thing is we just
have to play together and keep going forward.”