Albany State offensive linemen Robert Cantey, left, and Darvel Nelson both transferred to Albany State from Georgia Military College this offseason expecting to have a year to learn the Rams’ system and possibly earn starting roles next season. But when two of Albany State’s top OL were ruled ineligible to start the season, Cantey and Nelson were thrust into the spotlight — and so far, have done a bang-up job protecting Rams QB Stanley Jennings. (Photos by firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY -- On Saturdays, Albany State offensive linemen Darvel Nelson and Robert Cantey line up inches away from each other on the football field.
Off the field, they may be even closer.
And it took the Rams coaches no time at all to witness the camaraderie of the two transfers from Georgia Military College.
"We saw it from day one," Rams offensive line coach Lawrence Livingston said. "Coach (Anthony) Kelly nicknamed them Cheech and Chong, because they are always together and are always in sync. They work well together."
But what makes the two junior linemen such good friends?
WHO: ASU (2-1) ay Miles (1-2).
WHAT: Rams’ fourth game of the season, second on the road.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Fairfield, Ala.
RADIO: 98.1 FM.
FOLLOW ONLINE: Log onto: twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.
"His Mohawk," the 6-foot-5, 350-pound Nelson joked as he pointed to Cantey's hair after Thursday's practice. "That's his style. Only he can rock it."
And that's just the type of friend Nelson is, said Cantey, who is listed as 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds.
"He is just a funny guy," Cantey said. "That's the funniest guy I know. Every time I see him, he gets me laughing. On the field and off the field."
The two were teammates for the last two years at Georgia Military College before transferring to Albany State. Nelson, a left tackle from Franklin, and Cantey, a left guard from Manning, S.C., remember being recruited in the spring by former Rams offensive coordinator Steve Smith.
They also remember the excitement they shared when they committed to Albany State.
"We used to call each other at night and say, 'Hey man, I can't wait to get down there. I'm excited,' " Nelson said. "We would call each other every other night or so."
Nelson and Cantey visited ASU's campus together and instantly found what they were looking for, and the fact that they have been able to lean on each other during the transition has made it even better.
"It's important to have him here, because it's always important to have someone here you know when you go away from home," Nelson said. "I have known him for about 2 -1/2 years now, so I felt comfortable coming down here with someone that I already knew.
"That is like my best buddy right there. He is helping me, I am helping him. We just work together."
Nelson and Cantey didn't come from a dismal junior college team -- GMC went 12-7 the past two years -- but they were ready for something better.
"It was the consistent winning and championship after championship," said Cantey, who also had offers from Fort Valley State, Benedict and Tuskegee, on why he chose ASU. "It's a good program, and I wanted to be a part of something good. That's why I came down here."
They joined an offensive line that entered the season with three retuning starters -- Travis Walker, team captain Mike Mavromichalis and Norris Byrd. But just months before the season began. Mavromichalis and Byrd were ruled academically ineligible, leaving Cantey and Nelson with an expanded role in the offense.
And so far, so good. The Rams' OL has allowed just seven sacks through three games, protecting reigning SIAC MVP Stanley Jennings well.
With the sudden departure of Mavromichalis and Byrd, the starting offensive line became Nelson, Cantey, Lackawanna (Pa.) transfer Hakeem Lassiter at center, Walker at right guard and Hinds Community College (Miss.) transfer Danny Bunch at right tackle.
"This was the group that had something to prove," said Livingston, who coached at Morgan State University last season.
Nelson said that getting the newly-formed line to mesh is still a work in progress, but he admits that the talent is there.
Cantey's talent is in his athletic ability, while Nelson has unmatchable work ethic, Livingston said.
"Cantey's strengths are definitely his hands and his feet," Livingston said. "He has very good feet, and when he works his hands together with his feet, he might have the best athletic ability of everybody on the offensive line.
"For Darvel, it's his effort. He is going to give you everything he's got. If he is going to make a mistake, he will make it 100 mph. He works really hard."
Nelson and Cantey have been right at the heart of that offensive line this year, always working like they have something to prove and knowing that a lot of the success of the team rests with them -- the unsung heroes who play season after season with little recognition.
"We are the grinders," Nelson said. "If we play good, I would say we have a good chance of winning. If we don't play good, we have a good chance of losing.
"Our job isn't to worry about publicity. My job is to go out there and block as hard as I can, and that's what I'm going to do."
Cantey added: "I love getting glory from the coaches and making the coaches proud. We want to make our teammates look good to give them publicity. When we make them look good, they talk about us."
It's that kind of work ethic and team-first mentality that Livingston said he knew he was going to get from the former GMC Bulldogs. Last year at Morgan State, Livingston coached another former GMC offensive lineman in Taylor Pass.
"So when I heard these two guys were coming from Georgia Military, I felt pretty good because they have a history of putting together pretty good offensive linemen," Livingston said.
And Albany State has a history of putting together championships.
The Rams (2-1), who are ranked No. 13 in the AFCA Division II Coaches' Poll, have won five SIAC championships in the last eight years and begin their quest for another conference title with Saturday's SIAC opener at Miles College.
And Cantey and Nelson are ready to set off on that championship journey -- one they have been dreaming about for months.
"The coaches here love to win, and they have been winning," Nelson said. "And I want to win."