By Christian Hince | November 27, 2023
In what’s been a massive bounce-back year for the University at Albany’s football program, awards season is recognizing the Great Danes.
The Great Dane offense lines up for 2nd and goal in an Oct. 21 against Rhode Island. They later won 35-10.
Photo Credit: Philip Walsh / The ASP
Head coach Greg Gattuso is at the top of the list, winning Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) Coach of the Year as well as earning one of 20 nominations for the Eddie Robinson Award, which recognizes the top coach in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). Gattuso’s 10th season leading the team has seen the team’s first conference title, albeit shared with Villanova and Richmond, after a regular season where the Great Danes were 9-3 overall and 7-1 in league.
They were especially dominant at home, winning all five games at the Bob Ford Field by an average margin of 24.8 points. It’s a far cry from a predicted CAA finish of eighth in the preseason, and even further removed from their showings in 2022 and 2023 which saw a combined record of 5-17 and not a single victory on the road. Now, UAlbany is seeded fifth in the FCS Playoffs and enjoyed a first-round bye this past weekend. It’s Gattuso’s second postseason appearance, as the Great Danes made the second round in 2019.
Fifth-year linebacker Dylan Kelly hadn’t played a down for UAlbany that season. In 2023, he’s the CAA Defensive Player of the Year. Kelly’s presence at the second-level has been constant for the Great Danes, with him setting UAlbany’s record for total tackles at 146. The only player in the FCS with more is McNeese State linebacker Micah Davey at 152.
Kelly is also one of 30 nominees for the Buck Buchanan Award, given to the top defensive player in the FCS, as well as being named first-team all conference on defense. Edge rusher Anton Juncaj also earned both honors, leading the CAA with 13 sacks, an FCS second.
On the other side of the ball, quarterback Reese Poffenbarger earned a CAA second-team all-offense nod and is one of 30 nominees for the Walter Payton Award, the FCS equivalent to the Heisman. He leads the subdivision with 31 passing touchdowns, adding 2,860 passing yards.
Meanwhile, running back Griffin Woodell won CAA offensive rookie of the year. The freshman from Glens Falls was a walk-on until the final week of the offseason, this year rushing for 649 yards and six touchdowns while averaging 4.9 yards per carry. He rushed for 100+ yards in three games.
The Great Danes filled out numerous CAA first-team defense slots as they led the league in scoring defense, allowing just 17.3 points per game. These included edge rusher AJ Simon, safety Larry Walker Jr., and cornerback Aamir Hall while linebacker Ori Jean-Charles.
In terms of special teams, punter Tyler Pastula earned a second-team all conference nod while kicker Jon Opalko appeared on the CAA third team. They finished sixth in the CAA in average punt distance and field goal percentage respectively.
National award recipients won’t be announced for another two weeks, but the Great Danes have sooner priorities as they look to advance to the FCS quarterfinals this Saturday against Richmond.