It's been more than five years since the "Voice of the Golden Rams," Fred "Doc" Suttles Jr. -- the Albany State football radio play-by-play man for almost 40 years -- last called a Rams game.
That was in 2004, when ASU was knocked out of the playoffs by Valdosta State in the quarterfinals of the Division II playoffs.
He passed away the following summer in 2005 from a heart attack, but right there to take his place was his son, Fred Eugene Suttles.
"Radio is one thing, but (sports are another)," said Fred Suttles, who first got involved with Albany State football radio with his father in 1997. "I knew sports, but they kind of grew on me. I never really had any intention of doing it, then when I started doing it and learning how to help (my father) out, I found out how difficult it was. It was easy for him, because he had it together and had been doing it for so long. It was automatic for him."
The Suttles name has become synonymous with Albany State football. After all, either Doc or Fred have called every game since 1966.
"I still have a bunch of old recordings. Normally, preseason (especially), I'll go back and see how he called the games," the younger Suttles said. "It just kind of brings back all those (memories) and gives me an opportunity to keep doing all the stuff (he did)."
Even Fred Suttles' current radio co-hosts, Norman Newton and Jesse Massey, agree that Doc Suttles was the one who laid the foundation for the work the trio does today.
"Every time I go into the box with him, I think about how Doc used to do it and he's doing it and passed on that tradition," Newton said Tuesday, just days before the trio will get back in the booth for Saturday's second-round playoff game against Wingate at Albany State University Coliseum. "It's great. A lot of our fans that listen to us on a regular basis, they'll mention Fred carrying on the tradition of his dad."
That wasn't the plan at first, though, according to the younger Suttles. He thought he would pursue a radio path in music, not sports.
"It grew on me, but it was (also) natural. My dad, I'm sure he was glad to be able to pass that one to his son to be able to (keep it going in the family)," Fred Suttles said. "I get a lot of people -- I don't know why they go out of their way to tell me this -- that'll tell me, 'You do a great job, but you ain't nothing like your daddy.' But we enjoy doing it."
That they do. As color commentators, Massey -- who coached high school football for 32 years -- and Newton -- who's been with Fred Suttles and ASU radio since 1997 -- have had their fair share of fun on the airwaves.
"It was amazing how hard it was to (learn) the play-by-play. Doing what these guys do is not hard, to just sit there and run your trap," Suttles joked. "But the play-by-play is a little different than the color (commentary) because they have more time. What you're doing is constantly going on. It's a challenge, but it helps to know the sport and is fun."
They know the sport, they know the school -- all three are ASU graduates -- and they know the personnel, so who better to analyze the team before its matchup against Wingate than this bunch?
Which is why The Herald sat down with them Tuesday to discuss the Rams' chances Saturday.
ALBANY HERALD: Obviously, at this point in the season, every game is bigger than the last one, so what are your overall thoughts on the team heading into their game against Wingate on Saturday?
FRED SUTTLES: I think this team is rested, and I think they're ready. We talked about it (Monday): These guys have fought hard all year, they've been through the last few years, which haven't been that successful -- not winning the conference, not winning in the playoffs. (But) they have a complete team, on both sides of the ball, and this is the year to make a statement. I think home-field advantage (means they are) going to play well, because playing at home means a lot. Even though we were at home last year, I think we're at home with the right momentum, the right chemistry and it's going to be one of those special times. I know what we're going up against. We looked at the numbers, studying the stats last week with Morehouse and Wingate. Of course, both teams can score -- they have explosive offenses -- and can move the ball, but just as strong as their offense is, we're as strong on defense. I think that we'll be able to explore things and put up points. (Wingate) did give up 41 points to Morehouse, and Morehouse still turned the ball over three times inside the (5-yard line), so it could have been a lot more. So I think the home-field advantage is going to be key, the team is solid and ... we're ready. They're going to have to come in here and play the Albany State game. I know (Wingate) has looked at film and never played (us) before, but if they're using Morehouse as a measuring stick, I don't know -- it's going to be a little bit different than what they're (expecting). But being around (the football team) since '04, this is probably -- (make that) definitely -- the best, complete team since that 2004 team.
AH: Wingate quarterback Cody Haffly is getting a lot of attention because he's No. 7 in Division II in passing yards per game (331.7) and threw for 477 yards and seven touchdowns in the win against Morehouse. But isn't ASU QB Stanley Jennings just as dangerous with his 170.60 passing efficiency rating (No. 2 in D-II)?
JESSE MASSEY: You have to look at Stanley as a force to be reckoned with, of course. He's a triple threat -- he can run the football, throw the football, make sure the backs get the football on a running play. You can talk about all the adjectives (and statistics) that explain the season, but now, it's the second season. Being a former coach, (I know that) you can forget about what you did in the regular season. Now starts the second season, and with that, you go home if you lose. I don't think these guys want to do that. I think they want to continue to mold and be successful. And the fan base, that's crucial to football. These fans have to be here and be committed to these young men.
NORMAN NEWTON: I think a lot of it, too, .... deals with our secondary, which has only given up seven or eight touchdowns all season. I think that's the matchup: It's going to be our defense versus their ability to pass the ball, especially their short passing game. We have a lot of seniors on the defensive side of the ball. Linebackers (like Jacob) Hardwick, (Frederick) Green, (Jamarkus) Gaskins, (Mario) Fuller and Prathon Wilkerson, those guys are highly motivated and all have had a great season, and I think they have that mindset where they're not going to let someone come into their house and go up and down the field like you saw (Wingate do) last week against Morehouse. I don't think that's going to happen.
AH: Yeah, Prathon and all the linebackers should play a big part in this game, especially since Wingate averages all those yards in the air and more than 450 total yards per game.
NEWTON: We don't expect them to not have some measure of success on our defense. They're a passing team and they've worked hard on it all year and obviously have perfected it for their quarterback to have 39 TDs on the year. I just don't think they're going to have the same measure of success that they've had on everybody else.
SUTTLES: I expect them to score, but I'm thinking 20 (points). I think they score two, maybe three times. But I think that Albany State is going to be able to exploit their defense and put 40 or 50 up. ... (Wingate) is going to have some success -- they'll probably score more than anybody has on us this year -- but in return, I think you're going to see a difference with the weapons we have. No one talks about Ronnie Childs, LiRonnie Davis and all these other guys that have been doing it all year. There's been a lot of talk on the high offense on (Wingate's) end, but I think (our defense) is going to be the key. I think it's going to be a flip from last week.
AH: That's a good point. Wingate does give up almost 400 yards per game.
MASSEY: I kind of think on their defensive side, they're going to do some of the things they saw Fort Valley do (in the Fountain City Classic). Whenever (Stanley) tries to roll, they're going to send those guys to him, so like we talked about on the radio, if we can do some things to offset that, that'll cut down the pressure on him. I like to establish the run. ... Establishing the run opens up a lot of doors for other things to happen.
NEWTON: I think that's one of the reasons you won't see them score 63 points on us, because Albany State's not going to come out and try to just go up and down the field and bomb these guys out. Albany State's going to try to incorporate the running game and try to eat up some clock. With our offensive line and our running backs -- (Robert) Welton, LiRonnie Davis -- they're going to find out that while they may have had 10 possessions against Morehouse, it'll only be six or seven against us. And I don't think it's going to be a situation where they can expect to just get the ball (a bunch) of times and just go up the field and score.
AH: The running game has slowed down toward the end of the regular season, mainly because other teams have been stacking up against it since ASU had so much success on the ground early on. So will it be important for them to establish that early against Wingate, or can they fall back on their passing game?
NEWTON: That's where the balance comes into effect. If you stack up and try to stop the run, as Fred mentioned, you're going to have to worry about our receivers. You have guys like Ronnie Childs, which are big-time receivers that get a lot of trust from the quarterback, so I don't think you can just come into the game against Albany State and say, "OK, we shut the run down, we're going to beat 'em," because then we're going to come out and pass at you. (But) we're going to still beat you with the run and try to run the ball the entire game, and one or two times, we'll get a good, long run out of it and that will make it worthwhile.
AH: About that passing game, I was talking to quarterbacks coach Uyl Joyner and Stanley, and it seems like he could be even better if he prevents making those one or two big mistakes that come out of nowhere in nearly every game -- be it a costly fumble, interception or sack. Will he need to be perfect to win Saturday and throughout the playoffs?
SUTTLES: I think (the special thing) about this guy is just like the defense. Against Fort Valley, the defense had to say, 'We're going to win this thing. We got the points we needed.' When (Fort Valley) got the ball back at the end, it was like, "We're going to take this thing and we're going to win it." The Morehouse game, there was so much talk about Stanley saying we were going to win the rest of the games. Every time you looked in the paper, it was like, "OK, he's guaranteeing them to win" and you know what that turned into. But he put that on his shoulders on that last 87-yard drive at Morehouse and said, "Look, I'm going to throw it, I'm going to run the ball and we're going to win the game." I think that's what you'll see (Saturday). If it's still a tight ball game, you'll see these guys simplify it and it's going to be mono-a-mono. We're going to do what we need to do, and they'll have that determination, period. He's fumbled, he's made mistakes, then been able to come back. They're battle-tested. They're ready.
NEWTON: That's what I like about them. They've had to win some games when they were in an adverse situation. That Fort Valley game, how much worse of a situation could you be in? You have the team on your 10-yard line, first and goal with 40 seconds left and your defense has to run out there. Most fans think that's a touchdown and we're going to lose the game, but those guys, they came off the bench and were saying, "OK, they haven't scored the entire game (on us), and they're not about to score now." And they held up and that was a big test for them. Again, nothing against Wingate -- I'm sure they have a great team and are going to score some points -- I just don't see them coming into this stadium Saturday and putting up 35 or 40 points. That's not going to happen.
AH: The players have definitely shown heart throughout the season, but how do you feel about SIAC Coach of the Year Mike White and the rest of the coaching staff? Have they done their job well this season? Do they have the edge in this matchup?
SUTTLES: I don't know Wingate that well, but believe me, from what I saw, he's full stocked. He's got like 15 coaches on his staff and a student assistant. So I think he has a really good, solid staff, but coach White, from what he lacks in having a full-time staff and volunteers, to do what he does, is amazing. Some coaches probably would just walk away not having some of the things he has (at his disposal), but he's prepared and ready. One good thing for him this year was bringing in defensive line coach Bokowski Daniels. (White) can (focus) on being the defensive coordinator and the defensive scheme. So that's givien him some relief. He hasn't done that since he's been here, so now he has someone to relieve that pressure from him and he can focus on the entire defensive package. One thing coach White said to us is he doesn't mind getting beat if the defense did its job perfectly. If we're out of position and a guy is wide open and makes a play because we're out of position, that's what he gets mad about. I think he'll make adjustments, have guys where they need to be, and (while) Wingate will make plays, they'll be limited. They're a great team, (though). You don't win in the playoffs unless you have something. But I've been following this team ump-teen years, and having to take that team on the road is something different. You have to be on your game and everything, and I just think coach White and his assistants all do a great job of preparation and getting the guys ready. But like I said, not knowing (Wingate coaches) well, it is going to be a chess game. They don't seem to worry too much about defense, just getting points on the board, so it'll be important for White to have his guys in position and ready. They have numbers. Their numbers are huge -- 15 touchdowns, 12 touchdowns, 10 touchdowns, that's three of their receivers right there -- so we know what they can do, I just think it's a matter of limiting them.
MASSEY: I also think, being in the trenches, that if we can get pressure on these guys with our defensive line -- which does a great job of bottling up things -- and give (the Wingate QB) pressure like he hadn't had pressure before. That'll throw some of his mechanics (off) and the things he likes to do. If we just put pressure like a hurry or a tackle...
SUTTLES: ... It's a big difference. And I'll just say this, just like Morehouse and some of the other teams, they're going to have five, six, seven or eight guys that are going to crowd the whole line, and that's going to expose the secondary. At Albany, we don't do that. Sometimes, we'll be like, "Coach White, man, when you going to blitz?" And every now and then, he'll bring guys (up front), but most of the time he'll leave them back there and he'll get pressure with his front four. I think that's going to be the difference, having pressure but still having six or seven guys in coverage.
AH: You could probably just have sack-machine Jacob Hardwick up front and be fine.
ALL THREE: (laugh).
AH: Anyway, what do you think about -- I heard this from some of the players -- coach White throwing out some new plays. Is that a good idea, or should they stick to their bread and butter?
SUTTLES: I don't believe that, I don't know where that came from.
NEWTON: (laughs)...I believe you dance with the lady you brought to the dance. With Albany State basically doing what they do, they've had so much success, so I don't think they'll change a whole lot now. A lot of people say that with a three-week bye, you have plenty of time to put in some other things, but I understand they just did a lot of conditioning and trying to stay up on those type of things and did a lot of film study while they had time off. I don't think it's in coach White's nature to just abandon what he's done so far.
AH: But have you guys ever seen him throw up a trick play in the past?
NEWTON: (Former ASU offensive coordinator Donald) Pittman did when he was here a couple years ago. We learned to expect that at some point in the game.
SUTTLES: He would tell me. He trusted me enough to tell me, then after the play was over, on the radio, I'd be like, "He told me he was going to run that play." But (current offensive coordinator Steve) Smith won't tell me. (Then again), in two years, we've seen him run very few tricks. Not even a whole lot of reverses or flea-flickers.
NEWTON: I can't even recall seeing a fake punt or fake field goal. I think we tried a running back-pass last year, but other than that, I can't recall seeing a whole lot of that stuff.
SUTTLES: You may have a new wrinkle, but don't expect a circus.
ALL THREE: (laugh).
NEWTON: I think that's the main thing that Albany State wants to avoid in this game, because you don't find many teams (in the playoffs) that have a negative-turnover margin, but Albany State did. They had a perfect win-loss record, but we still had a negative margin at the end of the regular season, and that's one of the things they really don't want to do: turn the ball over and give somebody else a lot of light. I think in a lot of situations, teams hung around Albany State a lot longer than they should have, because we turn the ball over some.
MASSEY: I also want to add something about the coaching staff. I watch practice and these guys put a lot of time in with the limited amount of staff that they have. You have to look at what they've done, what they've accomplished. The majority of the coaches played at Albany State, I believe.
AH: Yes, all but Smith and Daniels.
SUTTLES: And they have that commitment. There are also volunteers that don't get a nickel, they just come back because they helped build the program and want to keep it going. If they decided tomorrow they wanted to stop, coach White would be in trouble. ... More than anything else, it's about getting the monkey off the back. A lot of these guys are tired of the "one-and-done" comments that a lot of people give when (the Rams) go into the playoffs. ... They're tired of that, they were tired of chasing Tuskegee for the conference, they're tired of (people saying) the SIAC is weak, there's been a lot of talk with the schedule. (But the fact is), these guys had nothing to do with the schedule. ... They went out there and played what they had in front of them and won. But people want to penalize them and say that they didn't do (much). I understand that, but I think this is the showcase. Bring a playoff in here and we'll show you those 10 games weren't a fluke.