ALBANY -- It's rare that a football team gets almost three weeks off between games, but that's what happens when your team is a No. 1 seed in the Division II football playoffs and has a bye in the first round.
Albany State earned a much-needed break after defeating Fort Valley, 12-7, in the Fountain City Classic and winning the SIAC championship on Nov. 6, and the Rams are using it wisely.
"It's just good to have a good break and concentrate on yourself and try to get healthy," head coach Mike White said. "(We're going to) concentrate on some of those things that we did not do well coming off that Fort Valley game."
After a couple days off following that game, the team went no pads for the rest of their practices that week.
This week, they're back to their regular schedule and gear.
"We're just gradually increasing every day, getting back into the swing of things after a couple days off. Now it's back to business," running back Robert Welton said. "This week we've just been working on ourselves, individual work. We're going back to some of the basic stuff we worked on at camp and tone up for next week when we actually have a team to play for."
It makes sense to work on individual improvement since the team don't know who it'll be playing in the second round yet -- it'll be either Morehouse (8-2) or Wingate (8-2).
"We're taking everything just about the same," tight end Christopher Oliver said. "We're just resting up right now to get our bodies ready for the playoffs."
Yes, every area of the team -- from the defensive line to the quarterback to the punter -- is focused on getting healthy and fixing mistakes, just like the team has done all year.
"Basically, what (my squad is) doing is concentrating on what we do as a secondary. Whatever we do, whatever kind of drills we do, we just concentrate on that because we don't know who we're going to play," defensive backs coach Dan Land said. "Anything that we're weak in ... that's what we're (working on). Then, when we find out who we're going to play on Sunday, then we'll start concentrating on that. I just don't want to get the guys too much at once."
That's true, but the break is also rare in that the Rams have more time to work on different aspects of their game.
"The thing we've been focusing on all year is coming together as a unit," defensive line coach Bokowski Daniels said. "Everybody doing what they do best at the same time makes it a complete unit, so just coming together, playing hard, that's what we're (focusing on this week)."
Don't think they're taking it TOO easy, though. This week's practice was just as hard as any during the regular season.
"We're still practicing, you see," quarterback Stanley Jennings said after Tuesday's practice as he pointed to the sweat running down his face. "It's the same mindset, we're not cocky about anything, that record doesn't mean anything. We're going into the second season more focused. Coach has given us new plays, so we're going to try to be more explosive, (starting) now."
So along with the extra time, new plays and a chance to work on the little things, it's no surprise the Rams are confident about changing the stigma associated with them and the playoffs.
"We're excited, man. We have this first-round bye, so we really have an easier road to the national championship than a bunch of (other) teams do," running back Robert Welton said. "We're just ready to get this show on the road, shock the world as (one of) the first HBCU colleges to win a national championship in D-II. We're ready to do it."
A HILL WORTH CLIMBING: Coach White has been around the block a few times.
In addition to being ASU's head coach for over a decade, he's been involved with the Rams' football team for more than a quarter century.
So it's no surprise hes been around a few nominees for the Harlon Hill trophy -- the Division II equivalent to the Heisman. But what is surprising is how much he supports quarterback Stanley Jennings' recent nomination for the award.
"I've been around a few of (those nominees over the years)," White said. "We've had some players that have been nominated before, but (Stanley) had a good year and is (one of the few that are) well-deserved. I just hope we can keep it going as a football team, but he's been a good leader and he's had a good year."
Basically, what the award means is that Jennings is considered one of the top 24 D-II players in the nation -- which is an unexpected surprise for the QB transfer from Southwest Mississippi Community College.
"(It wasn't) really (expected coming into the season), because my training wasn't as I thought it would be coming into my junior year, but that's great," Jennings said. "If they nominated me this year, I can only imagine what they're going to do next year. I'll be training hard this summer."
And while Jennings' stats are no secret -- he's dominated the SIAC in passing yards with 206.6 per game and thrown 23 passing touchdowns -- what is under-the-radar is the fact he isn't even in his final year at Albany State, which is why his nomination is even more impressive.
"He deserves that (award) very much," tight end Christopher Oliver said. "He's carried us as a leader and done nothing to make us look bad. He kept his composure all year. Even though he said 'The Guarantee,' we didn't look at that the wrong way. We took it as 'we're going to win and we need to back up our quarterback.'"
Jennings hasn't made any guarantees for the postseason, but his confidence has remained constant, which is all his team needs.
"(The nomination doesn't) really (add any confidence for the playoffs)," Jennings said. "I don't really care about stats and all the other stuff, all I'm worried about is the win. As long as we stay undefeated, that's all that matters. That trophy, that's just (a bonus for the) job."