ASU NOTEBOOK: Albany State starting center back in lineup for 2012 opener; White expresses concern over conference's decision to add new team --- from Ohio

ASU senior captain Hakeem Lassiter had surgery two weeks ago to have keloid removed from his ear, but he will be back as the Rams' starting center in Saturday's season opener against North Greenville.

ASU senior captain Hakeem Lassiter had surgery two weeks ago to have keloid removed from his ear, but he will be back as the Rams' starting center in Saturday's season opener against North Greenville.

Citing logistics, ASU head coach White questions conference’s decision to add new team

ATLANTA — ASU coach Mike White is the first to admit that he was a little puzzled when Albany State’s conference announced Monday that Central State University, located in Wilberforce, Ohio, would be added to the conference next summer.

“In a time when you are talking about cutbacks,” White said, searching for the right words. “I’m just going to do my best to handle it when it gets here. Right now I am going to stay away from thinking about driving all the way to Ohio, because I know that’s what we are doing.”

The Rams already have at least one long road trip each season between Lane College (900 miles round trip to Jackson, Tenn.) and Kentucky State (1,150 miles round trip to Frankfurt, Ky.).

“You know you have one of those trips that is going to be a whopper to travel,” White said. “Now they’ve thrown another one in there that’s going to be a long trip.”

Central State is in central Ohio, just east of Dayton, and it would take around 12 hours for the Rams to make the 700-mile trip up to Wilberforce. Central State’s closest conference opponent will be rival Kentucky State, which is still nearly three hours away.

Central State was a football powerhouse in the 1980s and ‘90s, finishing as the Division II national runner-up in ‘83 and winning NAIA Division I national championships in ‘90, ‘92 and ‘95.

However, the school dropped the Marauders’ football program in 1997 because of financial reasons, and it wasn’t reinstated until 2005 when it joined the Great Lakes Football Conference.

On July 1, 2013, Central State will officially become an associate member of ASU’s conference, participating only in football.

“Central State University is so pleased and excited to be received as an associate member of the (conference),” Central State University President Cynthia Jackson-Hammond said. “The affiliation for our football program will promote great enthusiasm and energy for our alumni, students and the entire CSU family.”

The Marauders will compete in the West Division, along with Kentucky State, Lane, Stillman, Tuskegee and Miles, while ASU, Benedict, Clark Atlanta, Fort Valley and Morehouse will remain in the East Division.

ALBANY — An Albany State football team full of senior leaders got their biggest one back just in time.

Senior center Hakeem Lassiter, who will be the Rams’ captain for the second year in a row, is back in the starting lineup after undergoing surgery earlier this month to remove keloid from his ear.

His status for Saturday’s season opener against North Greenville was questionable last week, but the preseason all-conference player returned to the practice field this week and is more than ready for game day.

“It’s great to be back with my teammates,” Lassiter said. “They’re all happy I’m back. They’re all jumping around, saying, ‘Hakeeeeem!’ It’s a good feeling to be back.”

And it’s not just Lassiter’s down-to-earth personality that has Mike White and his coaching staff happy their starting center is back.

“He makes all the calls and the adjustments (on offense),” White said. “He was the key last year. You need that center there. He’s a huge part of our team, so we are glad to have him back. I know for a fact that we are a lot better offensive line and a lot better team with him in there.”

Lassiter, a 6-foot-2, 300-pound lineman from Paterson, N.J., had surgery Aug. 13 to remove keloid that developed late last season when his helmet rubbed against a cut on his ear. Since his surgery, he has been running and conditioning for the season but wasn’t cleared to wear a helmet until Monday.

Taylor Benchoff, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound freshman from Ware County High School in Waycross, filled in at center in Lassiter’s absence and was one of the linemen who played 48 straight snaps in mid-afternoon heat during the team’s only scrimmage earlier this month.

Benchoff and quarterback Keenan Grissett had a bad exchange on a snap, which resulted in a fumble that was returned for the game’s only touchdown. Even with the fumble, however, White said Benchoff was one of the stars of the scrimmage.

But Saturday it will be Lassiter snapping the ball and calling the shots after a speedy recovery that has the whole team excited.

“I’m ready to get back out there and start the season off with a good run,” Lassiter said. “We have the chance to be good this year.”

ASU TO HONOR FOUNDER SATURDAY: Albany State will honor Dr. Joseph Winthrop Holley, founder of the 109-year-old institution, during Saturday’s season opener at home against North Greenville.

The 4th annual J.W. Holley Memorial Game will kick off at 7 p.m. at the Albany State University Coliseum.

Albany State named its first home game each season as a tribute to the founder and first president of the historically black school, ASU athletic director Richard H. Williams said in a statement.

“It was Dr. Holley’s dream to build an institution of higher learning where African-American students could receive quality training in education,” Williams said. “Because of his dream, Albany State can continue its legacy of helping students realize their full potential.”

Holley, who was born in South Carolina, received his education in Massachusetts and returned to the south after reading the writings of Dr. W.E.B. DuBois on blacks in Georgia. Shocked by DuBois’ description of the poor living conditions experienced by blacks in the south, Holley decided to move to Albany and start a school, which he founded as the Albany Bible and Manual Training Institute in 1903.

Holley retired in 1943 after serving as president for 40 years.

“This event is just a small gesture to pay tribute to a great man who paved the way for so many in Southwest Georgia, the state and this nation,” Williams said.

Tickets for the game are $20 for adults and $7 for kindergarten through 12th-grade students and are on sale now at the ASU business office cashier’s window in the ACAD Building. Tickets are also on sale at Odyssey Records, Connie’s Corner, Petro Store on Radium Springs Road and June Bug’s Grocery.