ALBANY – With seven starters returning on each side of the ball, it’s easy to see why Albany coach Mike Janis is eager to get the season rolling.
“We’re just excited to get out on the field, get to play somebody in a different color jersey and see how our guys respond,” Janis said. “It’s been a long time coming for football to finally get here. I know we’re all excited to go out and play, but we’ll make sure that we are able to manage that excitement and still go out and execute the game plan.”
While the Hornets return a host of experienced players, they’ll head into the season without receiver/running back/defensive back Rhett Wolfe, who tore his ACL over the summer after accounting for 1,248 all-purpose yards as a junior last season.
“You can’t really understand what you miss out (by) not having him,” Janis said. “I can’t state what that’s like because it would undervalue him, I think, anything I said. Even going back and watching film, he is such a home run threat that when you talk about offensive football, that’s the name of the game, getting into the end zone and scoring points, and when you have somebody like Rhett, there’s not many teams that can stop him. They might stop him most of the game, but all it takes is one or two plays and that could be the difference in a ball game. It’s the difference in why we scored so many points in several games last year.
“Defensively, you’re looking at a guy that’s been a starter since he was a freshman and started on both sides of the ball for the last two seasons, and just counting how many touchdowns he saved being on defense …,” Janis continued. “We’ve got guys who are capable football players and I think are going to do a very good job for us, but not having Rhett Wolfe is really going to hurt us.”
Still, junior quarterback J.J. Doherty returns for his third year as a starter after passing for 1,820 yards and 15 touchdowns while rushing for 1,277 yards and 16 TDs.
“Last year, I think it was really easy to see his athletic ability and the skills that he possesses,” Janis said. “This year, what’s been really exciting to watch is him grow as a football player and a leader – his leadership on offense, his control of the tempo and pace of the offense and his understanding of what’s going on within the play and who gets the ball, and then once he gets out of the pocket, his ability to take off and run is really impressive.”
The Hornets will look to sophomores Antonio Lopinto, and Tyrese Wilson, a transfer from Helen Cox, and freshman Seth Huffman-Olmo to handle the rushing load
“Antonio’s only a sophomore,” Janis said. “He’s a big kid, a lot of power running the ball.”
“He possesses a great burst with the ball in his hand, really good north-south runner,” Janis said of Wilson.
“He’s a really good football player, and he’s one of them that I’m excited to see play … to see how he adjusts to varsity-level football because I think he’s a good enough football player to give us some time on the field on Friday nights …,” Janis said of Huffman-Olmo.
Albany’s receiving corps features seniors returnees Michael McCahill and Jacob Walter, who was the team’s hybrid tight end last season, and juniors Seth Galyean and Reece Wolfe.
“I expect results and production from those guys,” Janis said. “That’s a group of juniors … that got plenty of playing time as sophomores. Mikey’s been starting as a sophomore. Jacob’s a hard worker. Those guys are doing a great job out on the field right now, and I expect that to carry over …”
The Hornets bring back three starters on the offensive line in Lane Eyster, Koty Lundy and Cade Madison, who’ll look to mesh with a combination of Mark Stewart, Logan Cook or Jeremy Hoyt.
“They say in basketball, one guy can really make a team,” Janis said. “In baseball, you can have one pitcher come out and shut everybody down and you can win the game 1-0. In football, it takes all 11 doing all 11 individual jobs, and that is no truer than with the offensive line. That is a group that makes a position. How they work in tandem and how they’re able to communicate is going to be the key to everything we do on offense. We’ve got some really good playmakers, I think, on offense, but we’ve got to have those guys be able to execute their assignments to make us successful. With a couple new starters coming in, it’s vital that those guys communicate and are able to go out and make sure they’re executing …”
Defensively, the Hornets will move to a 3-4 look with Eyster, Lundy and Stewart of freshman Roosevelt Nicholes forming the defensive front.
“That, defensively is our biggest question mark is how those guys play,” Janis said of the line. “We’ve got kind of unique scheme with what we’re doing, and it’s very technique-oriented, and we’ve got to just make sure those guys are doing their jobs – just like playing offensive line, it’s kind of the same thing. You’ve got an assignment, go out and execute.”
The linebacking corps returns junior Justin Coats, who had 134 tackles last season, and Lopinto, along with junior Austin Watts and seniors Shawn McSpadden or Walter rounding out the group.
“We’ve got four kids who started games for us last year playing at linebacker,” Janis said. “I think defensively, that’s probably the strength of our team. You’ve got a kid in Justin Coats who had over 130 tackles last year as a sophomore. Antonio Lopinto probably played four different defensive positions last year just because he possesses such a unique skill set that he can play on the defensive line, he can play a linebacker. Right now, we’re trying to make him that headhunter at mike linebacker and let him go just be a football player and go make tackles. That group’s really experienced. What’s nice is we’re still young there …”
Reece Wolfe, McCahill, Jamarcus Williams and Galyean will man the secondary.
“When you look at the defensive secondary there, Reese and Mikey started all season,” Janis said. “Mikey’s now in his third year as a starter. We really felt as coaches last year that Seth was going to come on at some point whether it be Week 2 or 3 and likely end up starting for us at cornerback, and now he’s got that opportunity after healing up from a dislocated elbow last year, kind of a freak injury in the jamboree. Jamarcus is a guy who has put in a ton of work. He’s really benefited from being a two-sport athlete. You see so much specialization now. Jamarcus is a kid that got a lot of opportunity to play on a varsity level last year in basketball, and that transition from basketball to football, you could really see the abilities that he gained from all that experience in basketball transition over to the football field with how he’s able to move his feet and move around the field. You love those guys that play two sports because there are so many unique skills sets that can be learned and practiced in each sport and then come over in the football field and just become a complete athlete. He’s a really a testament to that.”
Janis said the goals for his team are a bit different this season after a pair of first-round playoff exits in his first two seasons with the Hornets.
“I don’t think we put a win-loss value on anything,” Janis said. “My expectation is for this team to go out and compete and be able to compete against anybody that we step on the field with. We really talked about playoff wins and stuff like that. We really harped on that a lot last year, but that’s not something we’re talking about this season. We’re excited to get back and play football and we talk about being the better team. When we step on the field, we want to impose our will. We want to be the better football team, and that takes a lot of hard work that we’re putting in right now. I expect us to, no matter who we play, that when we step on the field we’re going to compete and we’re going to compete to try to win.”