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Questions linger as Rams return for spring practice

Albany State running back Kareem Hess carries the ball during the Rams’ first spring practice Wednesday. Hess is returning from another season-ending injury to hopefully give Albany State both experience and depth in the backfield. (john.millikan@albanyherald.com)

Albany State running back Kareem Hess carries the ball during the Rams’ first spring practice Wednesday. Hess is returning from another season-ending injury to hopefully give Albany State both experience and depth in the backfield. (john.millikan@albanyherald.com)

ALBANY — Albany State senior Kareem Hess laced up his cleats, stepped out of the locker room and started running.

He sprinted around the ASU track & field complex and past the football team’s equipment shed, not stopping until he hit the practice field.

“Everybody else was walking, and I ran past all of them,” said Hess, who is back for his sixth season with the Rams after injuries forced the running back to be redshirted two straight seasons. “It feels great to be out here. I feel like a little kid. I am so excited.”

That was the feeling at ASU on Wednesday as the Rams held their first spring football practice, which was originally scheduled for Monday but was postponed two days due to weather.

“I was hoping we would get out here Monday,” Hess said. “I have been excited to get out here.”

The excitement was there, but so were the question marks.

How will the Rams follow up a 2012 season in which they finished 6-4 overall — coach Mike White’s worst record in 11 years?

Who will be the team’s starting quarterback for the 2013 season opener?

And who will step into huge holes left by graduating seniors, which include defensive linemen Justin Blash and Troy Morgan, running back Nathan Hoyte and receiver Ronnie Tubbs?

“We have a lot of things we have to work on,” said White, who is sitting on career win No. 99 after not making the Division II playoffs last season for the first time since a postseason ban was lifted in 2004. “I’m hungry and ready to get some things solved this spring. This spring will be about trying to right some wrongs from 2012. There were some things we didn’t do exceptionally well, offensively and defensively.”

One of ASU’s biggest issues last season was the lack of production at the quarterback position, where seniors David Kooi and Keenan Grissett split time and combined for six touchdowns and eight interceptions and completed less than 50 percent of their passes.

The Rams have four QBs on the roster this spring, but only junior Rodney Castlin has any college experience in the pocket. Castlin, who was ASU’s third-string quarterback last year and took the majority of the snaps in Wednesday’s practice, played much of the second half in the Rams season-ending loss to Fort Valley State and was 8-for-26 for 138 yards and threw three interceptions.

White isn’t sure if Castlin is the answer this season.

“We are going to have to bring somebody in to compete at that position, and that will probably be settled later,” White said. “(Castlin) has a lot of things he can work on, and I am hoping he can improve over these next few weeks. We need to get some quarterback help.”

Castlin played at ASU as a freshman under offensive coordinator Steve Smith before transferring to Arizona Western College and playing in the secondary for two years. He came back to the Rams program last year because he wanted to return to the pocket, and he believes he has a shot to win the starting QB position this season.

“Just from me being the only player who played last year, I think I am (the current No. 1),” Castlin said. “I wouldn’t say it’s my position to lose or gain, but I can say that I can lose it if I don’t do what I’m supposed to. We do have a lot of competition behind me, so everybody will be able to work, and we will be able to see who will be the better man at the end of spring.”

Former Mitchell County star Jessie Atkins, who led ASU in receiving last year with 32 catches for 553 yards and two TDs, said he feels comfortable with Castlin.

“We have the confidence we need because we have a quarterback here in the spring that will work with us from the spring all the way to when the season starts. It won’t be like when Kooi came in last year,” Atkins said, referring to the unfamiliarity Kooi had with the Rams’ offensive system after transferring in from Florida Atlantic extremely late in the preseason.

Atkins is one of several leaders back from last season and will be joined on offense by returners WR Orion Ponder, RB Adrian Alexander, OL Victor Moli, WR Mark Bell and OL Hakeem Lassiter.

Safety Dexter Moody, who led all of Division II with seven interceptions last year, is back for his senior season with the “Dirty Blue” defense and will line up with returning linebackers Larry Whitfield, Tavarius Washington and Jarvis Brice and defensive back Keionten Miller, an Albany native.

Whitfield, a former Monroe star, finished with 75 tackles and a team-high 14.5 tackles for losses last year and believes 2013 will be a turnaround season at ASU.

“The biggest positive right now is that everybody out here is getting the concept of what it will take to get better on offense and defense,” Whitfield said. “Everybody has the sense or urgency of getting better. What happened last season is pushing me and my teammates.”

White said this season’s spring practices will take a different tone than in past years.

“I always think it is like that when you aren’t successful the year before,” White said. “You just have to study your film and see where you fell short at, try to recruit and try to get better as coaches and overall as a program.”

White and his coaching staff had hoped to sign several more players — including a quarterback or two — in the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s practice, but he said all of those possible signees, including a number of local athletes, didn’t work out.

“We are still working,” White said. “Some guys I thought I was going to get aren’t ready yet academically.”

The guys that were there on Wednesday were ready to bring that winning tradition back to ASU.

“The attitude is a little different because nobody liked that outcome last year,” Atkins said. “We knew we were better than a 6-4 team, and now this year we have to prove that. Everything I felt during the season, I felt that (Wednesday) when I touched the field. Everything came back, the hard work, the dedication. It all came back like the season never ended.”

Comments

camillaallstars88 1 year, 1 month ago

Lets get that ball to Atkins by any means! receiving rushing kr pr. He has to be on the field a ATH of his caliber must be used or it will hurt the teams chemistry. He is the leader recruit around him. Lets go Rams National Title in 2 yrs I believe we have guys who do as well. Anthony Brown is a stud as well as Grover Stewart is a dynamic freshman at 6'6 290lbs de from Camilla. Lets go MCE win ASU their 1st National Title

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dominiquedamac 1 year, 1 month ago

You are crazy if you believe ASU will win a National Title.

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VSU 1 year, 1 month ago

Ha Ha Ha They need to worry about just winning a playoff game, much less a national title. VSU knows more about national titles than ASU. VSU got them another one last year.

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oldster 1 year, 1 month ago

At this point in the season everyone is undefeated and optimism abounds.

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cspecial199 1 year, 1 month ago

please rams, don't play scared as you did last season.i know plenty of high schools who would have beaten the rams last season.it has to get better.coaches need to get off their butts and coach and recruit better. using profanity won't teach the kids nothing.when i go to practice, thats all i hear and no teaching.like the basketball team, we have a rich tradition and you all are blowing it by laziness and buddy buddy systems

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dominiquedamac 1 year, 1 month ago

High Schools???? Man Please! No high school would beat ASU unless they have a lot of future Division 1 players on the team. ASU didn't play scared...they were just plain old sorry. The offensive line couldn't block and none of the Quarterbacks could throw accurately. The wide receivers could barely catch. The only thing that was good at ASU was the defense. Nearly every coach cusses a lot. ASU is recruiting fine. You can't have winning seasons every year. Hell, even Tuskegee was sorry in 2011.

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VSU 1 year, 1 month ago

Their field goal kicker sucked as well. A couple of games might have been won had they had a good kicker.

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dmyers80 1 year, 1 month ago

And lets not forget that we played with 2 inexperienced QB/s and lost 2 All Conference o-linemen at the begining of the season!!

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camillaallstars88 1 year, 1 month ago

I believe in ASU I don't care what anyone say! ASU will be the 1st HBCU to win a National Title. They had VSU beat in 2004 in the semifinal game. Coach white and staff yall have doubters but I'm not 1 I know it can be done!

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VSU 1 year, 1 month ago

They had them beat, but could not finish them off. The ultimate meltdown!That is why they play 60 minutes.

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dmyers80 1 year, 1 month ago

Please dont mention that game!! I have never gone home from a game that tired that i didnt play in!! They beat us in the 2nd half running 3 plays... QB made some very costly mistakes!!

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camillaallstars88 1 year, 1 month ago

Yes it was a melt down, but a stepping stone for a HBCU, VSU's only challenge is ASU. The difference in VSU and ASU is Coaching Fundamentals asu has more talent they just are not getting the best out of their players. Fundamentals Fundamentals fundamentals, will make or break you in the playoffs

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dominiquedamac 1 year, 1 month ago

WSSU is the stepping stone for HBCU's. Hell, WSSU won more playoff games in one season than ASU has won in their whole playoff history. VSU has more competition in their own conference than playing ASU. ASU has only beaten VSU one time. How is that competition? If ASU had more talent...they would be winning in the playoffs on a consistent basis and they don't do that.

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dmyers80 1 year, 1 month ago

How was losing a 21 point lead in the 2nd half a stepping stone?? The win against them earlier that season was a stepping stone... We struggle with VSU because from top to bottom thay play a tougher schedule and in a tougher conference than we do therefore they are battle tested week in and week out!!

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dmyers80 1 year, 1 month ago

Well actually before WSSU... Albany State had been deeper in the playoffs than any other HBCU... But I do agree that WSSU made some great positive steps for HBCUs

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camillaallstars88 1 year, 1 month ago

You say we but I take it you haven't PLAYED at ASU, I played in the SIAC and I take it to heart by you guys saying they had a harder schedule so NOT TRUE in 2004 the SIAC played more big name schools and more ranked schools in D2 than any other conference.

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dominiquedamac 1 year, 1 month ago

Like who? In 2004, the only ranked schools that was in the SIAC was ASU and Tuskegee. Tuskegee doesn't even play no PWCs. SIAC is one of the weakest conferences in Division 2 football. ASU has more playoff wins than anybody in the conference and ASU has only 3 playoff wins. That is sad! Btw, ASU had played two ranked schools in 2004 and that was VSU and Tuskegee. ASU didn't beat VSU when it matters and VSU embarrassed ASU in the quarterfinals. You got to win when it matters and ASU didn't...nuff said!

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dmyers80 1 year, 1 month ago

Actually I did play in the SIAC... We cant say its one of the toughest conferences just because its ours... from a National view , the SIAC is viewed to be not as tough as some of the others, thats why you will very RARELY see 2 SIAC teams in the playoffs despite the good records ( last season was the first time ever). And honestly there are come comferences that we just cant compete with... now as a whole the SIAC is getting better, the FVSU win against Delta State this past season was great for the conference.

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camillaallstars88 1 year, 1 month ago

In 2004 Miles played Southern University and Alabama State with Tavaris Jackson, also Mars Hill 2 D1 schools and a legit D2. North Alabama is to miles what VSU is to ASU. I agree some what but those games are tough. When you walk in Tuskegee stadium or Kentucky State who also had a good team in 2004. Also Lane college was sorry but had a Jacoby Jones a true burner. The talent is there but lets remember HBCU's are getting left overs, most are execpt ASU asu is in a area where not to many have D1 chances like a MC ASU can get a Jessie Atkins who is a Star player but came from a small school and was over looked Thats why I say they have a Better chance far as HBCU's go. They are surrounded by small schools with GREAT talent. ASU was fortunate to land a Demetrious Isom who was a Fundamental Lb 3 time all-state and he lead them to the semi final game. They have to do a better job of recruiting they have to truly SCOUT their recruits.

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camillaallstars88 1 year, 1 month ago

Once they land their recruits they must teach TECHNIQUE and fundamentals thats the #1 problem with Most HBCU's they aren't putting as much emphasis on Technique as VSU North Alabama. Fundamentals will beat TALENT any day thats most HBCU's downfall thats why ASU lost to VSU. VSU stayed their course and asu broke fundamentals in the 2nd half they got undiscipline. ALSO VSU had Fabian Walker Ga's leading passert in HS and he was poised he picked that weak secondary apart. To me ASU has always had a WEAK secondary they have had good indivuals in the secodary but as a Whole they were Horrible and still are that front 7 holds that DIRTY BLUE down. They need to stop looking for tall DB's and recruit guys who can COVER

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dmyers80 1 year, 1 month ago

Its good that they played those teams, but it doesnt get you respect unless you win!!! Now as far as fundamentals beats talent, no way.. The best DB's in the NFL are horrible when it comes to fundamentals, Samuels from the Falcons, never turns hip hips and runs when he's supposed to, always looking in the back field... Sherman from Seattle, always playing out of position to bait the QB to throw his way... Their Athleticism makes up for their lack of fundamentals,their speed and ball skills allow them to play out of position.... Now that being said, fundamentals beats talent is sooo true when it comes to baseball....

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dominiquedamac 1 year, 1 month ago

I guess you was a great player...not! Asante Samuel is a complete corner and he has a chance to be a hall of famer. Richard Sherman had 12 ints last year and he is only 24 years old. They are way better than you and they are making millions because of their ability.

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dmyers80 1 year, 1 month ago

Did you actuall read my post??? I wasnt down playing what they do... I said they are the best DB's in the game... I said they dont use the basic fundamentals, because their athleticism allows them to play how they want to... Samuels takes a lot of gambles that 90% of the CB's in the league cant, because of his ability he can sit on a route and still recover if he's wrong!! Sherman was out of position the whole game against ATL , but as soon as that ball was in the air, his athleticism allowed his to close on the ball, and except for that one td pass roddy white caught on him, he was johnny on the spot!!! Now if you read what I posted, you just said basically the same thing I said... i said they were the best DB's in the league and did have to use basic fundamentals because of their ability!!!

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camillaallstars88 1 year, 1 month ago

Football and any sport those are individual players I'm talking as a team. Everyone can't play off Deion Sanders was a Prime example he played with the wr. Fundamentals will beat Talent any day in a team sport. With baseball how are you playing if you have no Fundamentals thats a sport where you have to have fundamentals to even play. football and Bball you can get by a little until someone who has both then you DEAD. Those guys are in the NFL as well and know the fundamentals just don't have to use them. We are talking college ASU to be specific they have talent but every time they play a school with Fundamentals and a little talent they lose, those be the playoff games. Another example on the hs level AHS sucked in AA because they were playing teams who were fundamentally sound but they had more ath's. Fundamentals will beat talent any day

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dominiquedamac 1 year, 1 month ago

You don't know what you are talking about...if those teams had talent...they would win! Albany High has the same type of athletes as anybody else. They are sorry because they are sorry! Albany High never had a good football team anyway. ASU doesn't win against good competition because of the coaching staff. Please talk what you know....

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cspecial199 1 year, 1 month ago

the bottom line is the rams are afraid of valdosta state.they don't believe they can beat the white teams.they will continue to lose to them because its this todays african-american youth.he will go all out to beat the black teams but fold against the whites,its the truth

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dominiquedamac 1 year, 1 month ago

Excuses! ASU can't beat VSU because they are not good enough! VSU has plenty of black players on the team. Hell, there are more players on the team than white players. WSSU had played in the Championship game and they had to go against PWC's teams. WSSU won them games because they are a really good football team unlike ASU. Btw, WSSU is a black college! Do you have any more excuses?

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dmyers80 1 year, 1 month ago

So I guess you dont remember beating, north Greenville, Arkansas Tech, Wingate?? Predominantly white schools... What does race have to do with it anyway???

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TRUTH101 1 year, 1 month ago

What white team....LOL... There is not a white team in all of Football.......well maybe the local private schools......but um... UGA, Georgia Southern, Valdosta, Albany State....ALL BLACK TEAMS

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dominiquedamac 1 year, 1 month ago

Most PWC's schools teams are mixed. Hell, even most black colleges have white players on the team. ASU has some white players on the team, too.

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TRUTH101 1 year, 1 month ago

LOL....name a team that is at least 50% white.....Just remember why the PWCs are so great........If this was the 50s or 60s HBCUs would run ransack over their PWC counterparts......

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dominiquedamac 1 year, 1 month ago

Alot of PWCs are mixed. I don't have too much time on my hands like you...so I ain't going to waste my time looking up rosters to prove your point. Minnesota Duluth had a nearly white team and they won two Division 2 championships in football. Every team isn't made up of black players. Hell, Odessa Permian is a high school powerhouse and they are made up of mostly white players. Guess what? PWCs was getting black players in the 50s and 60s. Ernie Davis was the first black Heisman Trophy Winner in 1961. The top black athletes are not going to these black colleges from high school anymore. Get over it!

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TRUTH101 1 year, 1 month ago

You are right...Ernie Davis was one of the few black players to play "Major College Football" in 61.....and he won the Heisman....LOL....You should check out "The Express" and see how many Black teamates or opponents Mr. Davis played with

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dominiquedamac 1 year, 1 month ago

The team was mostly whites...what is your point?

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camillaallstars88 1 year, 1 month ago

The question is how many blacks are enrolled in their schools without ATHLETIC scholarships? Thats what makes them a white school! Truth is ASU has talent so does VSU the difference is ASU is not developing their TALENT. I played for M-B we had mostly white coaches who had all black players we won more than any team in this area in 20 years because they TAUGHT fundamentals. How to tackle how to block how to run, etc. We only used our athletic ability on Gamenights practice was about drills form tackling wr drills qb drills. We would only do team for maybe 10mins MAYBE. When I went to a HBCU it was VERY different same type of team talent wise but DIFFERENT structure No one put emphisis on Fundamentals and WE LOST when it counted and I was not used to that. Their are some Black coaches that KNOW to teach Fundamentals but 90% of them aren't at HBCU's. ASU should really look into hiring once White leaves Freeman out of Brooks he is a GREAT canidate and KNOWS to STRESS Fundamentals and could recruit Great talent and he's Discipline!

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dmyers80 1 year, 1 month ago

Hold on... " I played for M-B and we won more than any team in this area in 20 years".... That M-B cant stand for Mitchell Baker!!! What exactly did they win??? Cairo has a state title in the last 12 years... Americus has 2.... what does M-B have... I'm starting to see a theme with you, "we've got all the talent in the world but its the coaches fault that we dont win championships"!!! bottom line is there are different levels of talent.... Yes ASU has geat D2 talent but VSU is so successful is they consistantly land D1 talent... I remember the first year I played against VSU, they had, 12 players who were on D1 rosters the previous year, Its not always the coach's fault... Sometimes they are just BETTER!!!

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