David Kooi, a former Division I quarterback at Florida Atlantic, looks comfortable so far with Albany State since transferring over the summer, saying Tuesday he has not only developed strong bonds quickly with his teammates, but he’s doing well at learning the Rams’ playbook. (Larry G. Williams/Special to The Herald)
WHO: Albany State (1-0) at Wingate (0-1).
WHAT: First road game of 2012 for the Rams.
WHEN: 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Wingate, N.C..
RADIO: 98.1 FM.
ONLINE: For live scoring updates go to twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.
ALBANY — David Kooi has always been relaxed in the pocket.
Now the quarterback is getting comfortable as the newest member of the Albany State football team.
And he has teammates like fellow quarterback and friend Keenan Grissett to thank for that.
“I am getting more and more comfortable each practice and each day,” Kooi said Tuesday, just three days after leading the Rams to a win in their season opener against North Greenville, 24-12. “It’s always good to have a whole team take you under their wings and take you in.”
Kooi, a 6-foot-6 senior transfer from Florida Atlantic, joined the team a little more than a month ago and beat out Grissett for the starting QB job. In Saturday’s season-opening win, Kooi connected on 11-of-20 passes for 110 yards — not necessarily an eye-opening performance, but it was one that secured his spot as the team’s No. 1 QB.
“We found our starting quarterback,” head coach Mike White said Tuesday.
And more importantly, Kooi has found his new home.
“I seem to have a good bond with pretty much everyone,” Kooi said when asked how his relationships with his new teammates were developing. “I feel like this is a really close team, and we all respect each other and go out there and work hard.”
No one has bonded with Kooi more than Grissett, who transferred from Gardner-Webb to ASU in January and was neck-and-neck with Kooi for the starting QB position before Grissett suffered back spasms in the final week of preseason practices.
Despite the battle, the duo has remained close and developed a relationship that extends beyond the sidelines. Offensive coordinator Uyl Joyner said he sees it every time they step on the field together, and Friday afternoon the QB tandem they broke away from campus and shared lunch at local a local Chinese restaurant, Crazy Buffet.
“And we didn’t even talk about football,” said Grissett, who saw limited action Saturday, replacing Kooi under center only for special packages. “We just discussed things going on in our lives and got to know each other a little better. We don’t get caught up in who is starting and who is coming off the bench. Because at the end of the day, we are both working toward the same goal.”
That goal was loud and clear to Kooi when he stepped into the locker room Saturday afternoon and got his first taste of what game day is like at Albany State.
“Everyone’s demeanors changed,” he said. “It was fun, but it was game time. It was time to go out there and play.”
Kooi had spent the last three seasons at FAU, where he rose and fell on the QB depth chart, often coming up just short of the starting job.
When he and the rest of the Rams broke out of the locker room Saturday evening in front of a large crowd at Albany State Coliseum, there was no question who the team’s top quarterback was.
He completed his first pass of the game on a short, inside slant to Julian Bellinger and then scrambled 13 yards for a first down on the next play.
“I think that really made the guys get behind him,” Joyner said about the run. “He showed some toughness when he ran up in there. … He handled the whole offense as a whole, and I was happy (with) how he played.”
He rushed for five more yards during his first ASU drive, which was eventually stalled after a pair of incomplete passes to Nathan Hoyte and former Mitchell County star Jessie Atkins.
His biggest mistake came on the opening play of the second quarter when a short pass to the front of the end zone was picked off by North Greenville and returned to midfield.
“He tried to muscle the ball in there,” Joyner said. “It should have been a nice touch pass over top, but he gunned it in there like he was Brett Favre.”
But even that turned into a positive.
“He brushed it off and kept playing, kept pushing forward,” Joyner said. “That means he is a mature guy and can handle adversity. That’s the biggest thing. That’s what we need.
“He can adapt to any situation. He just came in (last month) and didn’t try to bring anything in. He accepted whatever we gave him. The guys were letting him know, ‘This is how we do it,’ and there was no argument.”
Kooi has had only a month to study ASU’s playbook, which is vastly different than the pro-style offense he ran at FAU for three seasons. The Rams run more of a spread offense and use skill players in the slot positions, while FAU used more tight end sets.
Kooi said he has come a long way in learning the plays but is still trying to work out the kinks.
“Right now it’s the little things, like snap counts, the tendencies of some receivers, the tendencies of your O-line, your personnel tendencies and when people come in what you can and can’t do,” Kooi said. “I’m still going out there and trying to learn every day.”
Kooi might still be working on the playbook, but he’s got his people skills down pat.
“He would talk to anybody, whether they are on the team or off the team,” Grissett said. “I see him around campus sometimes talking to people I don’t even know. And I’ll ask him, ‘Hey, do you know that guy?’ He will say, ‘No, I just stopped to talk to him.’ ”
Grissett calls Kooi a “great leader,” but Kooi was reserved before Saturday’s season opener, feeling his way through the beginning of his first ASU game.
“I didn’t really know what to expect in the first game,” Kooi said. “They were hyped up in the locker room. We had game-time speeches from coach White and coach Joyner.”
Before long, it could be Kooi giving those motivational speeches to his Albany State teammates.
“If I need to I’ll lead and give a speech,” Kooi said. “There are a lot of people out there who have been here and worked hard and earned that. I have earned the respect to play and get on the field, but (those guys) earned that right (to give a speech) during the summer … but if it’s needed.”