Albany State running back Darryl Carey, right, works on a rushing drill during Tuesday’s practice. Carey and the Rams reacted Tuesday to the news that the Rams will open the season as the No. 9 team in the nation, according to the AFCA Top 25 Division II Preseason Coaches’ Poll that came out Monday.
ALBANY -- The Albany State football team stepped onto the practice field Tuesday as one of the Top 10 Division II teams in the nation, but coach Mike White said he isn't even thinking twice about the preseason honor.
The Rams are tied for ninth in the American Football Coaches Association Top 25 Division II Preseason Coaches' Poll, which was released Monday. ASU ended last season ranked fourth in the national poll. This season, the Rams received 379 votes and are tied with Bloomsburg (Penn.) to start their 2011 campaign.
Several ASU players echoed their coach's belief Tuesday that rankings -- especially those in the preseason -- matter very little.
"The rankings really don't matter," senior running back Darryl Carey said. "We come out here and work hard every day and expect to be a good team. When we come out here on this field, we practice hard, we work hard in the offseason, we have some great coaches, and we are blessed to be on the field."
Carey, who carried the ball just 10 times last year for 31 yards, was seeing his fair share of reps during Tuesday's practice because of injuries in the Rams' backfield. After practice, Carey said he felt fortunate to be a part of the team and to play for the Rams' coaching staff.
"Of course we feel that we are worthy (of our ranking), but we can't look at that and get complacent. We want to get to the top. We want to be the last team standing, so we work hard to get to that," Carey said.
Carey then added: "I am a die-hard Ram. It's hard to be a Ram, and when we say that we mean it. I love it. We come out here and we bleed Gold and Blue. We are Rams, and we are going to be Rams to the end. It's a blessing."
Carey said last year's team -- which won the 2010 SBN Black College National Championship and the 2010 SIAC title, finishing with an 11-1 record -- and this year's team are both talented in their own ways. But White believes his 2011 squad still has a long way to go to match up to last year's team.
"Last year, I was very confident," said White, who has coached ASU since 2000. "I think as a coach I am pretty straight with how we are doing. Right now, we are not there yet. When we get there I am going to be the first one to say, 'Hey, we are looking pretty good.' But right now we aren't at that point."
The Rams will quickly find out what they are made of, with two of their first three games being against teams in the AFCA Top 25. After opening with Savannah State on Sept. 3, ASU will host No. 14 Wingate on Sept. 10 and No. 20 Valdosta State on Sept. 17.
But be certain of this: The Rams aren't looking past their season opener.
"If you look at preseason rankings, at the end of the season there aren't going to be the same teams most of the time," said junior Nate Hoyte, who transferred to ASU from Shepherd University (W.V.). "So you can't really go off what you see. As far as us starting off with (Valdosta State and Wingate) ranked, we just look at it as another game."
Preseason rankings may not matter at the end of the season, but junior strong safety Jamarkus Gaskins said it's still nice to be noticed on the national stage.
"That's Albany State," said Gaskins, who had 49 tackles, 5.5 sacks and two interceptions last year. "Albany State is getting a little more respect around here."
WHITE STILL WORRIED ABOUT KICKING SITUATION: One of the few weak spots for ASU last season was the kicking game, and Tuesday, White said he still has concerns about his place kickers.
"That hasn't been solved," White said. "I think we are doing a better job kicking field goals. We are a little bit more improved in that area, but our kickoffs are still not where they need to be."
Brandon Hamilton and Tory Torstenson both kicked for the Rams last year and will vie for the starting job again this season. Last year, Hamilton was 2-for-6 kicking field goals and 29-for-35 on PATs, while Torstenson hit his only field goal attempt and was 10-for-12 on PATs.
But the Rams' true weakness was on kickoffs, where they averaged just 39.4 net yards per kick.
"That's huge in terms of field position," White said. "We kicked the ball off so short that we allowed teams to push the ball with great field position. So that is definitely a worry we have."
On the other hand, White is confident in his punter -- junior Justin Keable, who transferred from Bethune-Cookman, where he was on the All-Mid-Easter Athletic Conference Second Team as a sophomore.
"I think (Keable) is going to have a good year," White said. "I am expecting good things out of him."
INJURY UPDATE: Five Rams, including projected starting running back Kareem Hess, sat out of Tuesday's practice with injuries. White, who is waiting on medical reports from doctors and the results from a pair of MRIs, was unsure how serious any of the injuries were.
"We got a few banged up and a few that the doctors are going to let us know about," said White. "(Our numbers) are so thin."
Though the number of injuries isn't uncommon from previous seasons, White said each of his players out with injuries are expected to be key players this season
"It's hamstrings, knees, but it's kind of hard to get around those in the game of football," White said. "We will know more by the end of the week."