Pensacola native David Kooi played in five games for FAU last year as a junior and started once for the Owls. (Photo courtesy of Florida Atlantic University)
ALBANY — Welcome to Albany State football, David Kooi.
The senior transfer from Florida Atlantic, who got his first dose of Rams football Monday morning with a 6 a.m. climb up the sand dunes near campus, will be the third quarterback fighting for the starting spot this season.
Kooi officially joins transfers Keenan Grissett (Gardner-Webb) and Rodney Castlin (Arizona Western College). Now, the trio has less than a month to win the spot before the Sept. 1 season opener against North Greenville.
ASU coach Mike White hopes it doesn’t take that long.
“I hope that in a couple of weeks we will be able to name (the starter),” White said. “Before we get to our first game, I’m hoping we will be able to say who is our man. It won’t go as I would like if we don’t name somebody by game week.”
White and his fellow coaches were thrown for a loop this summer when projected starter Blaize Schaeffer, who backed up star QB and graduated senior Stanley Jennings, was ruled academically ineligible.
Kooi was the backup last season at FAU, and he reportedly lost the 2012 starting job over the summer.
Kooi, who is 6-foot-7, played in five games last season — including outings against Florida, Michigan State and Auburn — and was 19-for-35 for 168 yards and one TD.
Kooi’s only start was Oct. 15 against Western Kentucky, and he was 10-for-21 for 79 yards in a 20-0 loss. Even though he saw limited action, his quarterback efficiency of 104.03 was the best on the team.
On Monday, minutes after running his final sprint up the sand dunes, Kooi talked about the excitement of joining an ASU program that is looking to regain some swagger after suffering its worst playoff loss in school history last year against North Greenville.
“It’s good to come out here and work with the team for the first time,” Kooi said. “I’m really excited (for this season). We have a good opportunity to win, and I am excited about getting a ring.”
Kooi went to high school in Pensacola, Fla., where he passed for 2,500 yards and 21 TDs and rushed for 400 yards as a senior. He was named to the All-State team and was heralded as one of the top prospects out of Florida, but since then he has found himself stuck in the backup role for three years at FAU.
White said he is ready to see how Kooi stacks up against Grissett and Castlin.
“He’s going to be part of the battle,” White said. “We had heard he was a good quarterback, and we are in need of that. He is going to come and compete, and we will see how it weighs out. We are looking for big things from him.”
ASU players go through sand dune tradition
ALBANY — Justin Blash fell to his knees, drenched in sweat and covered in sand.
His legs were weak and his stomach was even weaker, but all he could hear was his entire team huddled around him, urging him back up and cheering him on.
“It felt like real brotherhood,” said Blash, a senior defensive end who eventually rose to his feet. “That’s real brotherhood right there.”
That’s what Monday morning’s workout meant for the Rams, who kicked off the 2012 season with the annual tradition of running up the sand dunes during sunrise of the opening day of practice.
It’s an annual rite of passage that has cemented itself into the ASU program, one that Rams coach Mike White remembers being a part of when he starred for the team in the 1970s.
“This is tradition,” White said. “This is part of Albany State.”
The players, divided into groups according to their size, sprinted up the steep, sandy hill around a dozen times before breaking for breakfast. They returned to the field at 9 a.m. for the first practice.
White sat on the edge of his truck near the bottom of the hill as the sun crept over the horizon, urging on his players each time they reached the bottom.
“I think all of our guys look forward to this,” he said in between sprints. “They look forward to it because it’s the beginning of the year, and it’s something that a lot of them train for.”
He then paused and watched a few of his linemen sprint up the hill for the fifth time.
“I’ll tell you what, that was pretty good,” he said. “You just worry about your big people. Usually, your smaller guys and skill guys are in better shape. But with the big guys running like this, this is a good sign.”
At 345 pounds, offensive lineman Victor Moli was one of those “big guys” who dug down deep and reached the top time after time.
“I feel good,” Moli said. “There’s nothing like being tired from the dunes. It shows where your manhood and pride is and what Ram Power is all about. Ram Power isn’t just football, it’s character and what we abide by.”
Sure, he was tired — but the sophomore pushed through the pain.
“Honestly, you don’t have any feelings (in your legs when running the dunes),” Moli said. “Sometimes I wonder how I’m even moving and thank the Lord for giving me strength to just walk up there. After 10 (sprints up the dunes) I really couldn’t feel my legs.”
That’s how Blash was feeling after a final sprint to the top. But for him, the journey is worth it.
“This is our road to a championship,” Blash said. “In the road you have road blocks, speed bumps and you have to go through all that on the way to the championship.”
A title is the ultimate goal for the Rams, who will practice every day this week and put on pads for the first time Friday. They finished last season with a pair of frustrating losses — 20-17 against Miles in the conference’s inaugural championship game and 63-14 against North Greenville in the opening round of the Division II playoffs.
The road to this year’s championship for Blash and his teammates, however, begins Sept. 1 against North Greenville, and those first sandy steps they took Monday morning got the Rams going in the right direction.
It’s a road they are forging together, which is why Moli was right there beside Blash after that final climb, pleading with him not to give up.
“I told him to lead by example,” said Moli, a sophomore who trained with Blash throughout the summer. “I said, ‘If you are tired, we are going to be tired. If you are strong, we are going to be strong.’ At the beginning of the summer he wasn’t in shape at all, so just to see him run these dunes now like he is, is kind of motivating.”