Baltimore, MD – Face bulldozing running back Marcus Coker enough times in practice and you might think a Stony Brook defensive player would begin to turn in the opposite direction.
"Not at all," linebacker Jawara Dudley says with a smile. "When we see somebody who's as good as him, we take the challenge."
There are many ahead.
Joining CAA Football is just that for Stony Brook as well as the University of Albany. Both programs are about to take the Nestea plunge into an entirely higher level of competition on a weekly basis.
There should be a learning curve despite all of their excitement. Stony Brook, which is coming off four straight titles in the Big South Conference, appears better prepared for the move and it shows in the Seawolves being picked seventh out of 11 teams in the CAA preseason poll on Wednesday. Albany, which ended its run in the Northeast Conference with two straight titles, was ahead of only Rhode Island and neither newcomer had a player named to the preseason all- conference team.
"We welcome you to the grind," CAA commissioner Tom Yeager said appropriately as he greeted Albany and Stony Brook on media day.
The two newcomers join the CAA in a way that is similar to the teams they have replaced this year. Two years ago, Albany, like Georgia State, basically has its collective hand up in a signal of halt, feeling the transition at hand. Stony Brook, like Old Dominion, is waving on the competition, expecting to be a title contender.
"Obviously, it's a step above what we're used to as a team, as a program," said Albany quarterback Will Fiacchi. "This is awesome for us. Since the program entered into a new conference, obviously we're all really excited. Not only a new conference, but we have a new (8,500-seat) stadium this year as well. There's a lot of excitement throughout the program, throughout the city of Albany. We're ready to get going.
"I think our athleticism will surprise people a lot more than they might have thought."
Bob Ford, who will turn 76 in September and is in his 41st season as the only head football coach at Albany, has held off on retirement to guide the Great Danes into the CAA. His squads have defeated several CAA members in recent years, including a win at Delaware in 2006 when the Blue Hens had a certain quarterback named Joe Flacco.
The problem facing the Great Danes, who finished 9-2 last season, is that they have gone from only 35 full scholarships to 54, and the difference is mostly in freshmen who will redshirt this year. They will rely heavily on veterans such as Fiacchi, left tackle Kadeem Williams, and defensive linemen Andrew Smith and Tim Kologrivov.
"We will be challenged tremendously. I just hope we can live up to the challenge," said Ford, whose words to the media are decidedly different from what he will tell his players - that he expects to exceed expectations.
"People have said, 'What's the difference between the NEC and the CAA?' Not so much the style on each team, because Monmouth University had a kid by the name of Miles Austin - pretty good receiver. He's be a good receiver at any school. But the fifth kid on this level is much better. The 10th kid is much better. And when you peel off the veneer and look at the second string, (it's) bigger, stronger, faster, more talented. And I think, if I've assessed the league right, we will need the depth of second-stringers more than we ever have in the past."
Stony Brook enters the CAA with depth. The Seawolves, who were 10-3 last season, are in their fourth season of giving the FCS maximum of 63 full scholarships. Plus, coach Chuck Priore has done well with gaining FBS transfers, including Coker, the former Iowa standout who rushed for over 1,000 yards last season while being in the shadow of Walter Payton Award runner-up Miguel Maysonet.
Stony Brook beat Albany in the 2011 FCS playoffs and did even better last year in defeating CAA automatic qualifier Villanova, which is the favorite in this year's preseason poll. The Seawolves also nearly upset national runner-up Sam Houston State two years ago and then won at Army last season for its first victory over an FBS opponent.
"We've played enough of those games over the past couple years, where we had to go and get prepared," Priore said. "You don't win every one of them, but we've competed in them. I think my expectation from that perspective, is I know why three, four, five (CAA) teams make the playoffs each year."
The CAA will grow to 12 teams next year when Elon arrives from the Southern Conference. It's a conference that had five of its alumni on the roster of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens this past season and about 30 other players on NFL rosters.
For the newcomers, easy Saturdays are a thing of the past.
"Anybody in this league better expect a heck of a game any time they play in this league, I don't care who it is," William & Mary coach Jimmye Laycock said. "The second thing is, don't go by the preseason predictions and say, well, this team was picked whatever and they should be whatever. You better expect everybody in this league to be good."
CAA FOOTBALL PRESEASON POLL
Voted on by Head Coaches and Sports Information Directors
1. Villanova (11 first-place votes)
2. Towson (3)
3. New Hampshire (3)
4. Richmond (1)
5. James Madison (4)
7. Stony Brook
9. William & Mary
11. Rhode Island
PRESEASON ALL-CAA FOOTBALL TEAM
Offensive Player of the Year - Terrance West, RB, Towson
Defensive Player of the Year - Stephon Robertson, LB, James Madison
QB - John Robertson, Villanova, So.
RB - Kevin Monangai, Villanova, Jr.
RB - Terrance West, Towson, Jr.
FB - Emmanuel Holder, Towson, So.
WR - Ben Edwards, Richmond, Sr.
WR - R.J. Harris, New Hampshire, Jr.
WR - Tre McBride, William & Mary, Jr.
TE - Justin Perillo, Maine, Sr.
OL - Josh Bucci, Villanova, Sr.
OL - Randall Harris, Towson, Sr.
OL - Bobby Kennedy, Delaware, Sr.
OL - Seamus O'Neill, New Hampshire, Sr.
OL - Eric Pike, Towson, Sr.
DL - Rakim Cox, Villanova, Sr.
DL - Evan Kelly, Richmond, Jr.
DL - Zach Kerr, Delaware, Sr.
DL - Antoine Lewis, Villanova, Sr.
LB - Andrew Bose, Rhode Island, Jr.
LB - Monte Gaddis, Towson, Sr.
LB - Luke Rhodes, William & Mary, So.
LB - Stephon Robertson, James Madison, Sr
S - Manny Asam, New Hampshire, Sr.
S - Dean Marlow, James Madison, Jr.
CB - Jordan Love, Towson, Sr.
CB - Tye Smith, Towson, Jr.
First-Team Special Teams
PK - Cameron Starke, James Madison, Sr.
P - Mark Hamilton, Villanova, Sr.
Return - Justin Grant, Richmond, Jr.