ASU preps for biggest game of season

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

ALBANY -- Playing the word association game with Albany State senior Mario Fuller and what 'Tuskegee Week' means to him doesn't take long.

Fuller pulls the trigger on the meaning of this week quicker than he drops the shoulder on a wide receiver crossing the middle.

"Championship," Fuller said when asked what comes to mind when Tuskegee comes up on the schedule.

The Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship has been, and probably will be, determined by the winner of the Albany State-Tuskegee game Saturday at 2 p.m. in Alabama. It has been nearly 20 years since neither Tuskegee nor Albany State won at least a share of the SIAC championship.

"We try to say it's another game," Rams' head coach Mike White said. "But this game decided who the conference champ is the last (two decades). It's an important week for us. They've had our name here the last few years."

The Golden Tigers (2-0, 2-0 SIAC) have ruled the roost lately, beating the Rams (2-0, 2-0 SIAC) and winning the conference title the last three years. Fuller, the Golden Rams' senior safety, has never beaten Tuskegee but feels it's time.

"This is a pride game right here," Fuller said. "(I've got) one more shot."

Both teams won their first two games of the season handily and will face each other earlier in the year than in previous seasons. But nothing has changed.

Tuskegee and Albany State each average more than 35 points per game on offense and are 1-2 in total offense and scoring defense in the conference. Albany State's defense, which allowed 21 points in a loss to the Golden Tigers last year, is giving up less than 200 yards per game to opposing offenses and Fuller believes the "Dirty Blue" defense will be key to a win this year.

"We're going to try (allowing less than 200 yards Saturday)" Fuller said. "We're going to goose egg (Tuskegee). We're going to shut them down -- "Dirty Blue" all day."

WELTON A FAN FAVORITE: After winning the SIAC Offensive Player of the Week award in Week 3, Albany State junior running back Robert Welton was honored as the Heritage Sports Radio Network National Player of the Week in Division II. HSRN honors the top performances on the gridiron for Division I FCS and Division II each week. Fans across the country cast their vote for Welton as the top performer in HBCU D-II football in Week 3.

With two awards in just two weeks, the first-year Golden Ram is going to need a bigger shelf.

"I've got to make room," Welton said. "Wow, man that's crazy. It's an honor to get that award. I'm still in shock."

Welton ran for 103 yards on 14 carries and scored two touchdowns in ASU's 28-13 win over Clark-Atlanta last week.

If anybody on the Rams' roster knows about big games, it's Welton, the transfer from Appalachian State. Welton was a redshirt freshman playing special teams for the Mountaineers when they went up to Ann Arbor, Mich., and pulled one of the greatest upsets in the history of college football with a 34-32 win over Michigan in front of 108,000 fans.

Welton said he'd compare the ASU-Tuskegee rivalry to that of the fierce rivalries between Appalachian State and Furman or Georgia Southern.

"When I first came they said Tuskegee and Fort Valley were the two biggest games of the year," said Welton, who is the cousin of Cleveland Browns receive Chansi Stuckey and close friend of 2010 first-round draft pick Kareem Jackson from the University of Alabama. "They just talked about the implications of the game, all the trash talking before the game, the crowd. It's a big game."

TUGGING ON SUPERMAN'S CAPE: White hopes quarterback Stanley Jennings will come out of the phone booth a little earlier this week. Albany State used backup quarterback Wayne Campbell Jr. for a few plays after Jennings and the Rams fell behind last week in the third quarter.

Jennings came back in and scored on a 17-yard touchdown run to retake the lead, but White doesn't know if he'll need to continue to use Campbell if Jennings struggles again.

"I want to say no, but what's been happening is Stanley gets off to a slow start, Wayne comes in and (Jennings) comes back like Superman," White said. "I hope we don't have to do that for him to put his cape on and come out."

Jennings apparently suffered a slight ankle injury last week but returned to practice this week and should be fine for Saturday, White said. ASU also lost wide receiver Janell Jones last week to a broken finger. Jones "won't be with us again," White said.