UAlbany Football Aiming For NCAA Tournament
Drew Smith admits that its difficult not to notice the vacant spot in the weight room, in the Physical Education building, at the University at Albany.
There are NCAA tournament banners hanging for the volleyball team and the men's basketball team, but where the football sign hangs -- nothing.
“It's almost impossible not to look at it,” says Smith, UAlbany's junior running back.
The Northeast Conference is in its second season of handing out an automatic FCS (formerly Dfivision I-AA) NCAA tournament berth to the champion and Smith and the rest of the Great Danes hope they'll be there to accept it.
“We don't want to look too far ahead, but it's almost impossible not to.” he said.
UAlbany (5-0, 6-2) is in first place, but there are still three games remaining, including Saturday's matchup with Bryant, at University Field, at 1 p.m.
"I want it," said Smith, about winning a conference title. "Everyone wants it. I just hope we can get it done."
The Great Danes have rattled off six victories in a row, continuing to build momentum with each win.
“I think it's confidence,” Smith said.
Smith points back to the team's first victory, over Columbia, as a big turning point in the season.
"That game, was what we needed to believe," he said.
Since that contest, UAlbany has established their running game, led by Smith, Dillion Romain and Omar Osbourne.
Smith has been the feature back, with more than 700 yards on the ground and a team-high seven rushing touchdowns.
“Last year was a wake up on how physically punishing it is to play running back,” he said. “I don't think I had that mentality last year.”
Smith has talked to former running back David McCarty (Gansevoort) about what it takes to be a running back. At Guilderland High, Smith was a quarterback, who ran an option-style offense, but being a running back takes a bigger toll on the body.
“Physically, it's something like I've never endured,” he said.
Smith gives credit to the offensive line, which only had one returner -- Kyle O'Keefe -- and has turned out to be one of the best in the league.
“They've just been doing a spectacular job,” Smith said. “They've gotten better every week.”
That was one of UAlbany's weaknesses at the start of the season and they've turned it into a strength.
“If we win the conference championship, that's one area that deserves specific credit because that was the one area that was suspect," Smith said. "But they've proved every week that they can do it.”
The Great Danes hope they can continue proving they are the best and earn the first trip to the FCS NCAA tournament in school history.