Albany State met all its goals last season except one: win the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title.
Last year, the Golden Rams finished in the top two of most statistical team categories and won seven games en route to reaching the Division II playoffs for the sixth straight season. But Albany State finished behind Tuskegee in the SIAC, just missing out on the title for second season in a row.
Coach Mike White wants to take the next step, though he knows it’ll be tough.
“We want that title,” he said. “We’re going to run into some good competition almost each game. To get what we want, we can’t take anything for granted. We’ve got to play hard each week and everything will work out.”
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Everything seemed to come together for Albany State last season, despite it being a rebuilding year. There weren’t many marquee names that stood out, but the Golden Rams made their mark as a team.
Albany State topped the SIAC in fewest points and yards allowed, while leading the conference in rushing.
Still, it wasn’t enough to get past Tuskegee. White said his team needs to stop allowing big plays and close out games.
In their four losses, the Golden Rams gave up a 48-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to struggling Benedict, allowed Tuskegee to score 33 points, and let fourth quarter leads slip away against Morehouse and then in the playoffs to Tusculum.
“Just too many big plays,” White said. “That’s uncharacteristic of us. But things like that get better with growth.”
Albany State has only four players selected to the preseason all-conference team. Two of them are defensive end Josh Ingram and Mario Fuller, who led the team with 47 tackles and 10 pass knockdowns along with three interceptions.
Fuller and Ingram will lead a defense that returns eight players.
On offense, the Golden Rams continue to use a backfield by committee approach, which tied for a league-best 30 touchdowns. Quarterback Kisan Flakes led Albany State with 513 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. He threw for 1,198 yards and 13 TDs.
Larry Johnson, an all-conference pick at tight end, also returns after catching 19 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns.
With the hiring of new offensive coordinator Steven Smith, taking over when Donald Pittman was named head coach at Fort Valley State, White feels confident about the offense’s potential.
“He’s made a smooth transition, blending in and doing what we want,” White said of Smith. “I feel really good about where our offense is going at this point.”
After spring workouts, White said his team is starting to regain its swagger.
“It usually translates into a really good year when I see that,” he said. “We’ll see. But I have more room for optimism heading into this season compared to the past few years. Let’s hope my intuition is right.”