Albany State’s Frank Rivers threw for nearly 2,000 yards with 17 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in his two seasons at Grambling State and will start Saturday’s season opener against North Greenville. (Staff photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — Albany State’s preseason battle for a starting quarterback is officially over.
ASU head coach Mike White ended the speculation Tuesday, confirming that Grambling State transfer Frank Rivers will get the start in Saturday’s season opener at North Greenville.
It’s an announcement that had been expected by many ever since Rivers joined the team in the summer after spending two years at Grambling State, where he was officially the backup but ended his sophomore season with better stats than starter D.J. Williams.
Rivers started the Rams’ Aug. 24 intra-squad scrimmage and had been getting first-team reps in practice, but White and offensive coordinator Steve Smith were hesitant to name a starter until a preseason battle between Rivers, last year’s third-string QB Rodney Castlin and redshirt freshman Charod Williams played itself out.
Smith said Tuesday that Rivers had done enough to stand out among the three.
“He was doing some good things, and it just kind of played itself out,” Smith said. “He did some good things in the scrimmage and has been running the practices pretty well. I’m confident that he is going to be what we need (Saturday). He listens and pays attention to detail.”
Rivers wasn’t available for comment Tuesday, but quarterbacks coach Willie Totten said it was Rivers’ experience and coachability that ultimately set him apart from Castlin and Williams.
“I think the three quarterbacks all had different personalities,” Totten said. “I think they do certain things well in their own way, but I think that what stands out with Frank is that he understands the game. All of them are coachable, but especially Frank.
“With mechanics, I can tell him what to do and I can see him working on it and concentrating on correcting mistakes. If he makes a mistake, very seldom do I see him make the same mistake. That’s what really set those guys apart. He is very coachable and will do exactly what you tell him to do.”
Rivers started eight games the last two years at Grambling State and threw for nearly 2,000 yards with 17 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, and he will take over an offense that is coming off a down season. Behind QBs David Kooi and Keenan Grissett, the Rams finished outside of the Top 100 in every major statistical offensive category last season, but many think Rivers, a 6-foot-4 and 205-pound native of Fairfield, Ala., is the answer.
“He has a certain (way) about himself that makes the other guys understand,” Smith said. “He fits right in, and they see that he is trying to put them in the right position, and that he is doing what I am asking him to do.”
It was ultimately a decision by White and Smith to name Rivers the starter, but Totten said he immediately jumped on board with the call.
“From Day 1, since I have been here, I think Frank has shown a lot of poise,” Totten said. “I think he understands his role and understands that if he is the starting quarterback it will only last as long as he is producing.
“I feel real comfortable with (the decision to name him the starter). I think he is ready to lead this team, and I feel good about his preparation for the game (Saturday).”
CENTER OF IT ALL: The Rams added Smith, Rivers and a handful of freshmen and transfer running backs during the offseason, but White said the most important addition to the offense might be the return of senior center Hakeem Lassiter.
Lassiter was medically redshirted last year with an ear injury but said Tuesday the keloid that benched him last year will not prevent him from suiting up this season.
And White couldn’t be happier.
“I think that’s a major improvement for the offense because last year you had a true freshman trying to hold that position down and make calls,” said White, referring to freshman Taylor Benchoff, who started all of last season but didn’t return to the team this year. “Hakeem is the one guy on that offense that is the true leader. Even when he’s not in front, he is the one who gets them together.”
Lassiter, a native of Paterson, N.J., said his teammates welcomed his return with open arms.
“We are together,” Lassiter said. “If one is back, we all are back. We are joined together.”
SECRET WEAPON ON SPECIAL TEAMS?: Two years ago, the Rams brought in punter Luke Jones from Australia in an attempt to establish some stability to the position.
This year, White and his coaching staff are sticking with somebody more familiar, and this year’s punter might surprise you.
Dexter Moody, who nearly led all of Division II in interceptions last season and then stepped on the baseball field in the spring to lead the Rams in hitting, is now taking over some of the punting duties. He will share the role with junior Ryan Latner.
“He is the best punter out on the field. Watch when he punts the ball,” White said during practice Tuesday as he watched Moody boot a punt deep down field. “He’s that kind of athlete.”
Moody, who returned two of his seven picks for TDs last season, will likely scare defenses when he steps back to receive the snap on fourth down.
“That’s the plan,” White said. “If you are playing against us — I am quite sure if you see No. 3 back there — I think that would cause you to be cautious and worry about the fake.”