Georgia head football coach Mark Richt, left, walks up to the Albany State table and shakes the hand of Rams head coach Mike White at the annual Peach State Pigskin Preview on Tuesday at the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
MACON — Just over a month ago as the Albany State football team was preparing for its spring scrimmage, coach Mike White said he was looking forward to the long, competitive quarterback battle between Blaize Schaeffer and Keenan Grissett.
That battle is now over before it ever really began.
Schaeffer, who was the backup last season behind star QB Stanley Jennings, is academically ineligible for the upcoming season, White told The Herald, and his absence Tuesday at the annual Peach State Pigskin Preview in Macon was one of the biggest concerns addressed.
“The quarterback position is huge right now,” White said. “It’s not real clear, and I’m hoping it gets itself worked out real soon.”
White said the Rams, who were 8-4 last year but ended the season with losses to Miles in the conference championship game and North Greenville in the opening round of the Division II playoffs, have several holes left to fill before practice begins in August — but none of those holes are as troubling as the one Schaeffer left behind.
White said he is trying to bring in another quarterback who is a junior college transfer, but as of now Grissett, a junior transfer from Gardner-Webb, is the only signal caller on the Rams’ roster, which doesn’t sit too well with White.
“We really don’t have anybody but him right now, and we aren’t very comfortable with that,” White said.
Grissett and Schaeffer traded snaps in last month’s scrimmage, and Grissett seemed to take the upper hand in the battle for the starting job, throwing two touchdowns to wideout Ronnie Tubbs and leading the offense to a 43-32 victory.
But Tuesday, White indicated that Grissett hasn’t been all that impressive since that game.
“No, he hasn’t stepped up at all,” White said. “As a matter of fact, I would classify it as just the opposite.”
Schaeffer isn’t the only projected starter who didn’t cut it in the classroom and leaves the Rams scrambling to fill holes. White said that other players ruled academically ineligible are kicker Brandon Hamilton (who hit 13 of his 17 field goals last year during a breakout season), safety Matt Taylor (who would have been the signal caller on defense), offensive linemen Robert Cantey and Danny Bunch and tight end Darius Nelson.
Senior running back Luther Edwards, who shined in the preseason scrimmage, also won’t play next season because he exceeded his 10-semester limit.
All of this turnover — as well as the loss of several key graduates, like defensive end Antorio Wells, safety Jamarkus Gaskins and safety Rashad McRae — puts a lot of pressure on ASU’s veterans.
“It puts a whole new perspective on learning the defense and being able to feel one another out,” said senior defensive end Troy Morgan, who joined White and offensive lineman Victor Moli at the Pigskin Preview. “You have to adapt to new players and new guys. So with this situation, some of us older guys are going to have to step up and lead the young guys, show them the ropes and win ball games.”
Winning is something they are accustomed to at Albany State, which is what made the end of last season even more painful. The Rams won four games in a row in the latter half of the season to secure the Eastern Conference Championship and a spot in the inaugural conference title game, where Miles stunned ASU. Then after unexpectedly receiving a bid to the Division II playoffs, the Rams were blown out by North Greenville, 63-14, in White’s worst loss in his 12-year ASU coaching career.
“2010 was a strong football team, and we lost a lot,” White said. “And you would have thought that getting to the (conference) championship game (in 2011) after all we had lost would have been great, but when we got to that point it was so disappointing not to play well in that game.
“To play as bad as we did in the playoff game drives you to work harder this offseason. I have seen that in our staff. We are trying to care more about the details and maybe the things that we didn’t quite accomplish attitude-wise with our guys.”
The Rams open their season at home against North Greenville before traveling to North Carolina in back-to-back weeks to play Wingate on Sept. 8 and then Elizabeth City State University on Sept. 15.
And nobody at Albany State has forgotten about that playoff loss.
“It’s a bad taste in our mouth that you want to get out and go prove to everybody that we are still dominant and one of the top Division II schools in the nation,” Moli said. “We have a lot to prove to everybody, especially Sept. 1 at the (ASU) Coliseum against North Greenville.”