Jackson Ambush tries to lead UAlbany football out of CAA basement


ALBANY – If anyone is going to lead the University at Albany football team out of last place in the Colonial Athletic Association, it might as well be a guy who’s known for being the first person on the field.

Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jackson Ambush said it’s a habit he learned playing for coach Rick Conner at Linganore High School in Maryland.

“He’s always instilled that in me,” Ambush said Tuesday. “He’s always been hard on me, (being the) first one out … Just grind every day. I owe it to him.”

Ambush, a starting middle linebacker, led the Great Danes with 97 tackles, including 53 solo, as they finished in the CAA basement with a 2-9 record, 1-7 in the conference in 2021. He was chosen preseason all-conference last Thursday in a vote of league head coaches and media relations directors.

“I try to lead by example as much as I can,” Ambush said. “Jogging on and off the field, never walking. I feel like (his teammates) fed off it this spring and during summer training.”

Ambush and his teammates reported to training camp on Tuesday and will begin practice on Wednesday morning. They open the season Sept. 3 at Baylor.

“Jackson is just a great leader and he’s holding kids accountable,” UAlbany head coach Greg Gattuso said. “He probably doesn’t realize, but I see every day they work out, he’s the first player on the field and that’s the kind of leader you want … He doesn’t want the title ‘leader.’ He’s someone that is a leader and that’s the different and I love that about him. We expect a lot out of Jackson because he’s a captain. He’s a great football player.”

The Great Danes could use a few more like him if they’re going to defy the CAA preseason poll, which picked them 12th out of 13 teams.

“It’s preseason,” Ambush said. “It doesn’t really mean anything to me. … We haven’t played yet. I’ve got to prove to someone else that I can play? No, I’ve just got to prove it to myself at the end of the day.”

The UAlbany defense needs to prove it can stop the run. The Great Danes were last in that category a year ago, allowing 184.5 yards per game and 5 yards per carry.

From that group, the Great Danes lost defensive end Jared Verse, who transferred to Florida State, defensive tackle Mazon Walker, who moved on to New Haven, and linebacker Danny Damico, who’s now at CAA rival Villanova.

Damico and Ambush played next to each other in the linebacking corps.

“Danny kind of helped me last fall,” Ambush said. “I owe him a lot. He taught me a lot about the game. It’s going to be different. I had a leadership role last year, but especially with the new guys next to me, I feel like I’m going to have to step up a little bit.”

Ambush comes from the same high school that produced former UAlbany wide receiver Josh Gontarek, who was named CAA Offensive Player of the Year in 2014.

“I used to idolize him back in high school,” Ambush said. “I used to idolize them boys as gods. I see him all the time when I’m back home.”

Ambush is a senior academically and is pursuing his degree in homeland security. He’d like to work for the FBI “or something along those lines.”

Gattuso has developed a strong relationship with Conner, the Linganore coach, and recruits that part of Maryland. That helped UAlbany land a strong prospect in Ambush, who runs the defense and makes all the calls.

“We’ve had such a great run here of great linebackers,” Gattuso said. “Our middle linebackers have been all-conference, I think, every year I’ve been here. Our middle linebackers have been in the top five in tackling every year. It’s the style of defense and that player have to be a good player and I think (Ambush) fits that mold.”




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