Albany State quarterbacks coach Willie Totten walks the sidelines during Monday’s football practice. It was Totten’s first official practice since stepping down as the Mississippi Valley State head coach in 2009. (John Millikan) Albany State quarterbacks coach Willie Totten walks the sidelines during Monday’s football practice. It was Totten’s first official practice since stepping down as the Mississippi Valley State head coach in 2009. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ALBANY — Willie Totten glanced down at his brand new Albany State shirt and looked back up with a smile after Monday’s first full practice of the season.
“I like blue,” Totten said. “I’m a (Phi Beta Sigma), so that blue looks really good.”
Totten, who was a legend at Mississippi Valley State as both a head coach and player, is starting to grow quite fond of the Rams logo as well.
Totten joined the Albany State staff recently as the quarterbacks coach and was on the field Monday for the first time since stepping down as the MVSU head coach in 2009, and he walked away from Day 1 feeling right at home.
“Just listening to (the other ASU coaches) and how strongly they believe in this program, it’s a good feeling,” he said. “I did that when I was at Mississippi Valley. I gave Mississippi Valley all I had, but now I am a Ram and I am going to give the Rams all I have.”
Totten’s legacy at MVSU dates back to the early 1980s when he was quarterback for the Delta Devils and set more than 50 Division 1-AA passing records with the help of Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice. The duo became known as the “The Satellite Express” and excelled under the spread offense, and eventually the MVSU football stadium was named Rice-Totten Field after the pair.
Totten, who was selected into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2005, had brief stints in the NFL, CFL and AFL before taking up coaching. He became the head coach at MVSU in 2002 and held the position for eight years before stepping down to take an administrative role at the university.
But now he is back on the sidelines and overseeing the battle for Albany State’s starting quarterback position — an opportunity he said was perfect for him to reestablish himself as a coach.
“I thought this was the right opportunity for me,” said Totten, who was aware of Albany State back in the 1980s when legendary Rams coach Hamp Smith was at MVSU and recruited Totten to play for the Devils. “I felt comfortable once I sat down and talked with (ASU head coach Mike) White. This program has a tradition, and the only thing I want to do is come here and add to the tradition.”
He does admit that after wearing the green and red of MVSU for two decades, slipping into blue and gold ASU gear took some getting used to.
“I had been coaching at Valley for over 20 years, so it’s kind of weird,” he said. “Being here, once I hit the football field it went right back to football.”
Totten, offensive coordinator Steve Smith and defensive line coach Gene Crosby are all new additions to the staff after last year’s OC/QB coach Uyl Joyner and DL coach Bokowski Daniels both stepped down.
“I am happy with the guys we got,” White said. “To finally get everybody going and to get started, it just feels good to get to this point. It’s been a long time coming.”
Totten had a 31-57 record in his eight years leading MVSU and never thought he would return to coaching after stepping down from his post in 2009.
“When I first stepped down from coaching, I was done with coaching,” he said. “I had been doing it for over 20 years, and I had been at Valley for over 20 years. When you are in one place for so long, you kind of get burned out.
“A year went by and it was fine. Two years went by and it was fine. Then that third year came around, and I went out there and saw those guys running off the field. A lot of the players would come up to me and say, ‘Hey coach how are you doing? When are you going to start coaching again?’ Then I started thinking that I still had some coaching in me.”
And ASU just so happened to have an opening at quarterbacks coach.
“So far it has been going well,” Totten said. “I like the enthusiasm here. I like the tempo. I like the coaching staff. They really get after it, and that’s what you need. I think this is a good situation for me.”
How long he will stay at ASU, however, was a question he couldn’t answer on Monday.
“Right now I want to get back into the flow of the game,” he said. “I kind of lost the love for the game for a minute, but now I have regained the love. We will see where it goes after this, but right now I am enjoying myself here.”
Rams open practice
Conditioning was the theme Monday for the Albany State football team, which ran its first practice of the season in the late morning.
The Rams started the day with a 6 a.m. workout at the sand dunes near campus then moved to the football field, where they practiced from 9-11 a.m. and then concluded Day 1 with about 20 minutes of extra conditioning.
“By far, Day 1 is the hardest practice of the year,” senior safety and preseason All-Conference selection Dexter Moody admitted.
The team practiced without shoulder pads and ran through a typical practice routine without contact in temperatures that reached the upper 90s.
“It’s very tough,” White said about Monday’s practice. “It’s a time for us to push them as much as we can right now and give them their legs back a little later. Right now it’s time to work.”
Camilla native and returning starting receiver Jessie Atkins said Monday’s practice took mental toughness to battle through.
“If you can put it in your mind that you can do it, you will do it,” Atkins said. “If you have a strong mind, everything else comes with that. If you doubt yourself, you can’t do it. If you have a positive attitude, you will accomplish everything you need to accomplish.”