ASU NOTEBOOK: Rams not ranked in preseason D-II poll

Albany State head football coach Mike White

Albany State head football coach Mike White

ALBANY — For the first time in three years, the Albany State football team didn’t get ranked in the AFCA Division II preseason Top 25 poll, but that was just fine with ASU head coach Mike White, who after Wednesday’s practice said he hadn’t even glanced at the rankings released earlier this week.

“It’s the postseason where you want to be ranked,” he said. “Not the preseason.”

The Rams did receive 51 points — third-most among teams outside of the Top 25 — which surprised White after a 2012 season during which the Rams finished 6-4 and missed the Division II playoffs for the first time in a decade.

“After a 6-4 year, I’m glad somebody thought to recognize us,” said White, who didn’t vote in the coaches’ poll but wouldn’t have ranked his Rams very high if he had. “We were a 6-4 team last year, and I would have ranked us as a 6-4 team; somewhere close to the middle of the pack.”

The Rams began last year ranked 22nd, rose to 16th after their season-opening win against North Greenville but fell out of the poll and never returned after a Week 2 loss to Wingate.

In the final 10 polls of last season, the Rams never received as many points as they garnered this week, which offensive lineman Victor Moli believes is a testament to the program’s rich tradition.

“It shows the respect that we get here,” Moli said. “But we feel like the underdogs this year and that we have a lot to prove.”

The Rams have only received fewer than 51 points in the preseason poll once in the past decade when they were nearly ignored in 2010 with 30 points, but they responded that season with an 11-1 record and a Black College National Championship.

ASU will be able to see how it stacks up this season against a ranked team as early as Week 2 when it hosts No. 24 Tuskegee, the only team in Albany State’s conference to appear in the Top 25.

It’s a matchup that White said could set the tone for the rest of the conference season.

“It’s a huge game,” he said. “We hadn’t played them in a few years, and it’s always two good teams in the conference. They are playing really good and have a good offense. … We have our work cut out for us. That will be a gauge for us for how we are going to do in the conference. That’s a big test for us early.”

Valdosta State debuted as the No. 1 team in Division II after crushing Winston-Salem State in last year’s national championship game, 35-7. Minnesota St.-Mankato was a distant second behind VSU and was followed by No. 3 West Texas A&M, No. 4 Northwest Missouri State and No. 5 Winston-Salem.

Other teams on Albany State’s schedule that received votes were Miles (14 points), Elizabeth City (11) and Fort Valley State (4).

WHITE GIVES ‘THUMBS UP’ TO OFFENSIVE LINE: A position that struggled mightily last season, after its leader went down with a season-ending injury, has turned into one of Albany State’s strengths in 2013.

When asked what area of his team has impressed him the most in the first two weeks of practice, White gave the nod to his offensive line.

“I would give a thumbs up to the offensive line,” White said.

Last year, Moli was forced to step into a leadership role on the line after senior center Hakeem Lassiter missed the season after having surgery to remove a keloid from his ear. Moli, a junior, and Lassiter, who was medically redshirted, both return for the Rams and are determined to bounce back from a year when the Rams finished outside of the Top 100 in the nation in every major offensive category.

“Last year we struggled offensively, especially on the offensive line. And just to hear that (compliment) coming from somebody who wants the defense to win every snap is a good feeling,” Moli said about the comment from White, who is also the defensive coordinator. “It’s nice to see that our head coach sees how far we have come since last year.”

Moments after giving his thumbs up to the offensive line, White said the success up front might be deceiving because of ASU’s weakness on the defensive side of the ball.

“I say that, but now I’m thinking about who they have been going up against,” White said, referring to his depleted defensive line. “We are very thin on the line, and that has always been a pretty good situation for us. And if we didn’t have depth, we had a good batch of starters. These guys here have to learn what to do and still need to get in shape.”

Moli, however, still relished his head coach’s compliment and said he has seen improvement in a young defensive line.

“I would say the defensive line is working,” Moli said. “They are getting better every day and are busting their tails and doing what they need to get ready for Sept. 7.”

The Rams open the season Sept. 7 at North Greenville (S.C.), before returning home for back-to-back home games against Tuskegee and Elizabeth City.