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Albany State picked to finish 2nd in East at conference's annual Kick-Off Luncheon

Albany State head football coach Mike White, who is entering his 13th season with the Rams, has brought home five conference titles during his tenure. But the coaches in the conference aren’t so sure there will be a sixth this year after the Rams were picked to finish second in the East behind Morehouse on Tuesday.

Albany State head football coach Mike White, who is entering his 13th season with the Rams, has brought home five conference titles during his tenure. But the coaches in the conference aren’t so sure there will be a sixth this year after the Rams were picked to finish second in the East behind Morehouse on Tuesday.

ATLANTA — Albany State head football coach Mike White didn’t look surprised, and he certainly wasn’t intimidated by his conference’s preseason projections Tuesday.

White also didn’t waver from his message, despite the Rams surprisingly being predicted to finish second in the East Division behind Morehouse.

His message was one of confidence during Tuesday’s 2012 Conference Kick Off Luncheon in Atlanta.

“We are coming along,” White said. “I think some of the parts are becoming a little clearer to us. Even with the loss of (star quarterback) Stanley Jennings, we have a chance to be a good offense and maybe even a better offense.”

Morehouse, a team that ASU beat, 25-15, last season, received five first-place votes and was followed in the East Division projections by ASU with four first-place votes. Fort Valley State, Clark Atlanta and Benedict College rounded out the Top 5.

Miles, the defending conference champion, was projected to finish first in the West Division, followed by Tuskegee, Stillman, Kentucky State and Lane.

This will mark the second season that the conference is divided into two divisions after it opted to split the teams for the first time ever last year in favor of an East vs. West end-of-the-year title game.

Morehouse is coming off a season during which it finished 5-1 in the conference, 8-2 overall. The Tigers were No. 1 in the conference in scoring, total offense, rushing offense, sacks and interceptions.

But the Rams, who were the 2011 East Division champs with an overall record of 8-4 and a conference record of 6-1, aren’t used to seeing many teams from the conference ahead of them in either preseason predictions or end-of-the-year standings.

“We will be there at the end, and then we will just see how it all plays out,” said White, who is entering his 13th year as head coach at ASU with an overall record of 93-40. “Our goal each year is to be a consistent team and finish in the fourth quarter. We don’t really focus on preseason predictions.”

Neither does Morehouse coach Rich Freeman, but Freeman admitted Tuesday that many will likely be surprised to see his team ahead of Albany State.

“It will surprise some people just because of the tradition with Albany and the stronghold they have had over our program,” said Freeman, whose Tigers are 3-9 the past 12 years against the White-led Rams. “We struggle every year against Albany State. We went on the road last year and the year before and when our kids get to Albany they just lose it. They are a good football program, so yeah, it will be a surprise.”

The Rams, who have won five conference titles under White since 2000, open their season Sept. 1 against North Greenville, which knocked ASU out of the Division II playoffs last season and handed the Rams their worst loss in program history under White — a 63-14 thumping that left a bad taste in the mouths of White and his players.

The sting is still there, but so is White’s determination. And he is determined to avenge that loss to North Greenville.

“I guarantee it will be a different outcome this time around,” White said. “We will be a better football team going in and will play a lot better … We just didn’t show up (last year). I’m pretty sure our guys will show up (this year).”

Last year against North Greenville, the Rams turned the ball over four times — three interceptions from Jennings and another pick from backup QB Blaize Schaeffer. Jennings graduated after a pair of outstanding years at ASU, and Schaeffer was recently ruled academically ineligible, leaving White and offensive coordinator Uyl Joyner with a huge hole under center.

Transfer Keenan Grissett is currently the only quarterback on ASU’s roster, but White said Tuesday that he is getting ready to sign two quarterback transfers to bring more competition to the position.

“We aren’t ready to announce who they are yet because we don’t have them 100 percent signed, sealed and delivered, but I’m pretty sure they will come aboard to help that situation and make it more competitive,” White said.

If you look past the quarterback, ASU’s offense, which returns eight starters, appears to be rock solid. Leading the offense, which averaged 31.5 points per game last season, will be Ronnie Tubbs, who caught a team-high 10 touchdowns.

“He is the man and works as hard on the field as any kid we have,” White said about Tubbs. “He is a definite leader for us. Him, Nate Hoyte, Hakeem Lassiter, we expect them to tote the load for us this year.”

There is plenty of optimism floating around Albany State, and White doesn’t think an unfavorable preseason prediction will change any of that.

“We know who we are, and I go back to the philosophy that we will be there in the end,” White said. “Whether we are picked first, second or third — we will be there.”

Preseason conference honors were also handed out Tuesday, and ASU placed five players on the All-Conference First Team: receiver Tubbs (Senior, 6-foot-3, 180 pounds), offensive lineman Hakeem Lassiter (Sr., 6-2, 305), defensive lineman Justin Blash (Sr., 6-5, 320), linebacker and former Monroe star Larry Whitfield (So., 6-0, 200) and kick returner Orion Ponder (Jr., 5-10, 200).