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Albany State linebacker Stanley returns to football to lead Rams

The Albany State football team has been rejuvenated by Stanley’s play on defense

Albany State linebacker Glen Stanley celebrates after one of his sacks two weeks ago against Benedict College. Stanley has helped the ASU defense turn its season around with a team-high 4.5 sacks. (Staff photo: John Millikan)

Albany State linebacker Glen Stanley celebrates after one of his sacks two weeks ago against Benedict College. Stanley has helped the ASU defense turn its season around with a team-high 4.5 sacks. (Staff photo: John Millikan)

ALBANY — Glen Stanley knows all about long-winding journeys that take you where you least expect.

So when the Albany State football team needed to go on its own odyssey to fight back from a 1-4 record and capture an East Division title, Stanley knew how to lead the way.

And as a result, the senior linebacker has become the face of the Rams’ four-game winning streak, recording each of his team-leading 4.5 sacks in the past three games and finishing Saturday’s win against Fort Valley State in the Fountain City Classic with 10 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss.

He’s been a menace to opposing offenses in the last month with two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, a defensive touchdown and eight tackles for loss.

“He has been a huge plus for us and has made a huge difference in our pass rush,” ASU coach Mike White said. “He is a football player in every sense of the word. He is very wise. You can’t get him with the same thing twice.”

But as long-winding journeys tend to go, Stanley never saw his route ending in Albany.

Once considered one of the top defensive players in the nation and coveted by nearly every major university, Stanley became academically ineligible after committing to Florida State in 2010 and stepped away from football for the past two years — but the 6-foot-2, 250-pounder has resurfaced in Albany and has become one of the Rams’ top defensive players.

“I never thought I would be going to an HBCU, and it’s been a different experience, but a good experience and a humbling experience,” Stanley said. “A few years ago, I was rated as the No. 1 junior college player in the world. I could have gone anywhere I wanted to, but I ended up at ASU. After all of that, it humbles you. I’m just happy to be here and happy to be in the position we are in.”

Stanley’s journey as a college football player began in 2007 when he played at Bowling Green and was named to the freshman All-American team, but the Ocala, Fla., native requested a transfer from BGU after one season for family reasons — a transfer he wasn’t granted, forcing him to play one season at Eastern Arizona Community College, where he became the nation’s top junior college prospect.

Prior to his junior season, Stanley committed to Tennessee but changed his commitment to USC to follow head coach Lane Kiffin, who moved from UT to USC before signing day. Soon after signing with USC, however, Stanley was granted a release in the wake of the university’s harsh sanctions handed down from the NCAA because of rules violations. Stanley then joined FSU in 2010 and practiced with the Seminoles for several months as one of their prized defensive signings until he became academically ineligible and was forced to transfer to Division II West Texas A&M.

He played at West Texas A&M for a season and then spent the last two years in Florida with his family, taking classes and training individually.

When he was finally able to re-enter the college ranks last year, he first decided to play for Clark Atlanta, but after Clark head coach Daryl McNeill was fired last November, Stanley landed at Albany State.

“It’s been a long journey,” Stanley said. “But it’s a blessing to be able to play football for one more year and to get the opportunity to play well and maybe get a shot in the NFL. It all comes together so well when you believe in God and continue to work hard. Even the years I sat out, I continued to work hard. It finally all came together for me.”

White said he feels fortunate to be able to sign a player the caliber of Stanley, who has turned into a crucial piece of ASU’s pass rush.

“In our defense, that position is huge,” White said, referring to the Rams’ roving outside linebacker position that can either drop back in coverage or rush the passer. “That’s an impact position. That guy has to be that kind of impact player, and Glen gives us that.”

It was the type of player ASU was lacking at the beginning of the season when Stanley sat out a number of games with high blood pressure, and the team subsequently started with a 1-4 record. During that five-game stretch at the beginning of the season, the entire ASU team had one sack — but in the four games since Stanley joined the starting lineup the team has racked up 23 sacks and four straight wins.

Heading into Saturday’s SIAC championship game against Miles, Stanley could be the difference-maker that ASU didn’t have Sept. 28 when he was on the sidelines in the Rams’ 22-14 loss to the Golden Bears.

“It would have been interesting if he would have been there the whole year,” White said. “He is constantly communicating with his teammates. I know they would have good things to say about what he does in the game adjustment-wise.”

ASU safety Dexter Moody, who has been equally crucial to the Rams’ success this season, has seen the difference Stanley has made on defense.

“He’s come in and turned into a vocal leader and has been leading by example on the field more than anything,” Moody said. “He has great practice effort. He does a really good job of getting pressure on the quarterback and plays really physical.”

Stanley is able to use his speed to rush the passer from the outside, forcing the quarterback to stay contained within the pocket and allowing both himself and his teammates to record one sack after another.

“If I get off the ball fast, I feel like I can get to the quarterback every time,” he said. “Coach has put in some packages to expose a lot of the (offensive) tackles.”

It was ASU’s pass rush that was bring exposed in the early part of the season, but Stanley said he sat down with the defensive line and challenged them to turn the season around.

“We went up to Lane and got beat real bad, and I sat down and told the D-linemen that it’s on us,” Stanley said. “I told them that (the secondary) can’t be in coverage forever, so I think they took that message and we have been working a little bit harder at practice. The practice tempo changed.”

With his reappearance on the college football scene, Stanley, who was invited along with Moody to play in the Division II Senior Bowl, said he has started to receive interest from NFL scouts. The dream of playing in the NFL that was alive and well three years ago has started to flicker back to life for Stanley, and he believes he still has a shot to take his journey one step farther.

“I should have a shot at the NFL,” he said. “I have talked to a few guys, and I feel like it’s a blessing to even be in that conversation. But as for right now, we have to beat Miles. That’s my focus right now.”