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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 26, 2012

No senior football season, no problem –– Daly heads for Division I
By Jordan J. Michael

VOORHEESVILLE –– It’s rare for a football player from this area to make a Division I college team and even more rare for a player to make it if he never played a single down during his senior season. The odds are very low, but not impossible.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Mr. Russell Daly.

Daly, a senior at Voorheesville, signed his letter of intent to play Division I football at Wagner College next fall. He spent his entire senior season on the sidelines after tearing a ligament in his knee during a Spring 2011 pre-season camp session in Guilderland.

Absolutely devastated after his knee injury, Daly almost gave up, but the young man was determined to get back on the field. He bought new running shoes the day his doctor cleared him to run on his left knee.

“I wasn’t supposed to run more than one mile, but I ran two or three,” Daly remembered this week. “My knee was pretty sore afterwards, but I didn’t care. I was so excited to run again.”

Daly continued to train and rehab after that, eventually playing his complete senior season of basketball for the Birds. Now, this Sunday, he’ll travel to Wagner on Staten Island to watch the Green and White game while receiving his training regimen for football next fall.

Wagner was the only Division I offer Daly got after sending many e-mails and putting in many calls to college football programs at every level. Wagner offensive line coach Andrew Berggren clicked his name and made an offer.

“I needed to play more football,” Daly said. “I had a sour taste in my mouth from missing my senior year, but I stopped feeling sorry for myself after a while.”

The window for Daly to play Division I football was small, but he jumped through anyways.

“I would have said you’re nuts if you told me I would be playing Division I football,” Daly said. “Well, life works out sometimes.”

Daly sold hard to recruiters because all he had to show was his junior season. As Voorheesville’s third wide receiver in 2010, he made 24 catches and one touchdown. However, he had great hands, rarely dropping a pass.

“I ain’t never dropped nothing never!” is Daly’s personal motto on his recruiting web page. He once told his teammates that he’d do 50 push-ups for every ball he ever dropped. He didn’t do many push-ups.

“I have sure hands,” Daly said.

Voorheesville has had two former football players make Division I. Steven Cardinal went to Iona College in 2007 and Steve Halligan played for Sacred Heart University in 1992.

“I wasn’t surprised, really,” said Voorheesville Head Coach Joe Sapienza of Daly’s intent. “I always thought he was good enough. He resolved it in his mind and told himself he could do it.

Even though Daly couldn’t play last fall, he was very involved with the Blackbirds’ team. He was at every practice and game, and in the weight room. As a captain, Daly felt responsible for his leadership duties.

Every snap, Daly wanted to be out on the field, but he couldn’t.

“I tried to be a leader as much as I could, but there’s limits when you’re on the sideline,” Daly said. “Coach Sapienza gave me a lot of responsibility and let me lead some wide-receiver drills and stuff. He showed me a lot of respect.”

Sapienza was impressed with the grace and dignity Daly showed during the football season despite his own personal plans being ruined. Daly truly cared about the team.

“There’s nothing worse than being told that you can’t play your last season,” said Sapienza, “but he shared his experience with the team because he’s a veteran guy. He pulled guys aside and talked patterns and put himself out there for his teammates’ benefit.”

Without Daly on the field, Voorheesville was forced to get receiving yards elsewhere. Senior J.D. Springer, who used to play soccer, broke the single-season school record for receptions and was an All-State selection. Daly helped him along the way.

“A lot of football players think soccer players are soft, so I told him to be aggressive and use his body as much as possible,” Daly said of Springer. “You have to have that mentality.”

Daly had aspirations of breaking that same receiving record for Voorheesville. Did he feel jealous?

“I think Russell found his own replacement in J.D.,” Sapienza said. “Russ was a big part of that. If Russ was jealous, then give him credit because he never showed it. He supported J.D. all the way.”

Another aspect that helped Daly was his size and shape. He’s 6 feet, 4 inches and 215 pounds. Daly rehabbed, hit the weight room, committed himself, and made himself into a marketable player.

“He has the physical prototype for a wide receiver,” said Sapienza. “A big, athletic wide receiver. His hand-eye coordination is unbelievable, too.”

Daly told The Enterprise that his father, Kevin, signed him up for football when he was 7 years old. He was a lineman for some years, but slimmed down and got taller. Daly wanted to be a wide receiver in his freshman year, but his coach disagreed.

“The coach didn’t like my aspirations as a receiver, so I didn’t play a lot,” Daly said. “I was the last receiver.”

Making the varsity team in his sophomore year, Daly made his first reception during a crossover game against Corinth, breaking a tackle and gaining 13 yards. “It was pretty good for a first catch,” he said.

Excitement would almost be an underestimate of what emotion Daly will feel when he steps on the football field once again. He’s considering studying business because he can sell. He already sold himself pretty hard to Wagner.

“You have to stop feeling sorry for yourself at some point,” Daly said. “Ripping up my knee wasn’t fair, but you have to keep moving forward.”

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