By ADD SEYMOUR JR.
Albany State is again picked to be one of the best football teams in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
But what is different is leadership. Out this season is former head coach Dan Land who resigned in March. In is former Charleston Southern offensive coordinator Gabe Giardina, who takes over a team that is picked to win the SIAC East Division after falling one game short of making it to the SIAC championship game in 2016.
Giardina, in his first head coaching job, has yet to be on the field with his new team as he was hired after spring practice wrapped up.
“I think we’re really excited to get the pads on and get our family going,” Giardina said during SIAC Media Day. “We’re getting hired here at the end of April, so I think the players are just as excited as I am to get out there on the field and see who is coaching them and what they are actually like. It’s exciting to be picked first, but at the same time, we know that’s just on a piece of paper. None of that means that much, other than people respect our program.
“But at the same time know we’ve got to go out there and play the games,” he said. “The real deal is being in that championship game at the end of the season.”
Giardina inherits a team that went 5-4 (3-1 SIAC) last season, mainly on the strength of the “Dirty Blue” defense. The unit was the SIAC’s toughest against the run and second-best overall to Tuskegee by less than a yard. They were the league’s best in only allowing teams 18 points per game.
Seven starters return on defense, including defensive back Nick Scott, who led the team with 42 tackles and two interceptions. Also back will be Emmanuel Brown (41 tackles} and Zavondrick Shingleton (40.5 tackles).
The Golden Rams return six starters on offense, but not quarterback Caleb Edmonds, the SIAC’s top passer and leader in total offense who has graduated. He was also their leading rusher. Sophomore Charles Stafford is the only quarterback returning with any experience, completing 4-of-6 passes last year. The team’s four leading receivers are back, but the question remains as to who will be throwing the ball to them.
Also graduating was Jarvis Small, ASU’s star running back who battled injuries most of last season. The team’s second-leading rusher, McKinley Hambersham, returns after rushing for 337 yards and two TDs last season.
Giardina’s forte is offense, having led Charleston Southern’s multiple offense which averaged 33 points and 410 yards of offense per game last season. His offenses helped CSU to 36 wins over a four-year period. Charleston Southern won the Big South Conference championship in 2015 and 2016 and was ranked 14th in the final NCAA FCS Coaches’ Poll last season.
While Giardina said his Albany State team will also feature a multiple offense, right now he is just focused on getting his team on the field so coaches and players can finally get to know each other. He admits that having to “hurry up and wait” for fall camp to start is a little frustrating as they look to get going.
“We’re just trying to establish our culture, our core values and environment and what we want to be important to our players,” Giardina said. “Obviously we had a little late start, being hired after spring ball. So, fall camp is going to be important in establishing our identity and who we want to be and who we want to be going forward.”