Weekly Feature



2014-08-13 / Sports

South grad Licata leading UB football

PATRICK NAGY
Sports Reporter


Joe Licata, a 2011 Williamsville South graduate and redshirt junior at the University at Buffalo, looks to fire a pass during action in the first half of the Bulls’ road game against Western Michigan University on Oct. 12, 2013. Licata finished the 2013 season throwing for 2,824 yards and 24 TDs while completing 58 percent of his passes. 
Photo by Nick LoVerdePurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com Joe Licata, a 2011 Williamsville South graduate and redshirt junior at the University at Buffalo, looks to fire a pass during action in the first half of the Bulls’ road game against Western Michigan University on Oct. 12, 2013. Licata finished the 2013 season throwing for 2,824 yards and 24 TDs while completing 58 percent of his passes. Photo by Nick LoVerdePurchase color photos at www.BeeNews.com As 2011 Williamsville South graduate Joe Licata enters his second full season as the starting quarterback for the University at Buffalo, expectations are high.

In 2013, the Bulls finished 8-5 overall, which included a seven game win streak — longest in team history. They went 6-2 for second place in the Mid-American Conference East Division. One more conference win would have given UB a berth in the MAC championship game.

UB concluded its season by falling to San Diego State, 49-24, in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the second time the Bulls played in a Bowl game.

Duplicating the success will not be easy. Four of the team’s core players - running backs Branden Oliver (UB’s all-time rusher), wide receivers Alex Neutz (UB’s all-time career leader for TD receptions) and Fred Lee, and linebacker Khalil Mack - graduated.

Mack was the MAC Defensive Player of the Year and selected as the fifth overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. Oliver is excelling as an undrafted free agent with the San Diego Chargers. Neutz was in the Cincinnati Bengals’ training camp although he was released in July. Lee took a job as assistant strength and conditioning coach at the University of Wyoming.

The loss of these players has meant an even bigger leadership role for Licata, a role he has no problem handling.

“As the quarterback, you want to be the leader,” Licata said after practice Friday. “Losing the studs that we had to graduation, I know I am going to have to step up and be the guy that has had that experience, along with Cortney Lester (defensive back), Jake Stockman (linebacker) and other guys on defense and offense.”

The 6-foot-2, 227-pound Licata had a tremendous 2013 campaign, throwing for 2,824 yards, 24 touchdowns and 8 interceptions while completing 58 percent of his passes. The TD total was one shy of the school’s single-season record.

The best statistical performance of Licata’s collegiate career came in a 51-41 loss at Toledo on Nov. 12 where he completed 36-of-58 passes for 497 yards and four TDs.

The completions, attempts and yards were single-game school records. The 497 yards tied him for seventh all-time for a single game in the MAC.

The stats are even more impressive because Licata, a redshirt junior, played the entire season with a torn hip labrum and a bone impingement that required offseason surgery on Jan. 7.

Licata, who said he is at 100 percent, said the injury actually helped the mental part of his game in the offseason.

“I was taking a lot of mental reps,” Licata said. “Watching spring ball helped develop me as a quarterback more from a coaching mindset. On the sidelines, I was able to sit there and watch everything and diagnose what the defense was doing in certain situations. I got in the film room a lot. It really helped my development and helped me hit the ground running for this camp.”

“He’s been able to come out here and perform,” UB coach Jeff Quinn said. “I saw him run a couple times and avoid the pass rush so he’s moving good in the pocket and understanding where the throwing lanes are. He’s getting the ball to the right people. We’re going to keep working with him. As time goes on, he’s going to become more comfortable with the supporting cast around him.”

The good news is Licata’s entire offensive line returns, including junior left tackle Jake Silas, senior left guard Andre Davis (Maryvale), senior center Trevor Sales, junior right guard Robert Blodgett, and junior right tackle John Kling (Depew). Williamsville East graduate Todd Therrien is a backup guard.

“It’s huge,” Licata said. “It makes me happy and my mom happy that our whole offensive line is back. That is definitely huge for a quarterback knowing that I am going to have the time that I need to complete passes.”

“I’m pleased with the offensive line and that is where it all starts,” Quinn said. “With those guys coming back, it gives Joe a good handle to drop back and pass and hand the ball off to our running backs.”

One of the running backs Licata is expected to hand off to is redshirt sophomore Jordan Johnson, a 2012 Sweet Home graduate.

Licata is also working with a new quarterbacks coach, Alex Wood, who was previously the receivers coach. Wood is also the offensive coordinator. Don Patterson, the previous quarterbacks coach, resigned from the position to accept the assistant head coach and quarterbacks coaching position at the University of Connecticut.

“It’s a good transition,” Licata said. “Having a coordinator in our meeting room has really helped. There is no middle man so he’s able to tell me what he wants. I’m able to voice my opinion and tell him if I like or don’t like a play. We’re back and forth talking about the offense and the ways to improve it.”

Licata will have many new options to throw to with the graduation of Neutz (61 receptions, 12 TDs) in the hope that the Bulls’ passing attack – ranked fourth in the MAC – stays successful.

Licata said there is no way to replace Neutz’s productivity but he is looking for seniors Devon Hughes and John Dunmore, junior Ron Willoughby and sophomore Boise Ross to step up, as well as tight ends, junior Matt Weiser and sophomore Mason Schreck.

Licata was also named a Second Team 2014 Preseason All-Mid-American Conference Team selection.

He was also named a finalist for the Allstate Good Works Football Team. According to UB’s website, the award recognizes a select group of college football players who have made a commitment to enriching the lives of others while contributing to the greater good of their communities. Fred Lee earned a spot on the team in 2013.

In order to meet the criteria, each player must be actively involved and committed to working with a charitable organization, service group or community service while maintaining a strong academic standing.

“That is very cool,” Licata said. “It’s a great honor to be recognized. This is my hometown and I love to give back to the town that has given me so much.”

When Licata graduated from South in 2011, he left with nine Western New York passing records: yards in a game (492), yards in a season (2,462), attempts in a season (296), completions in a season (173), touchdowns in a season (36), and career attempts (483), completions (803), yards (6,671) and TDs (87). Licata’s single-game record for yards in a game and single-season records for yards and TDs have since been broken.

Licata said the team’s goals are to be competitive and win the MAC Championship, slated for Dec. 5 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. His personal goal is to someday play in the NFL. And with approximately nine UB graduates currently on NFL rosters, it’s not an unrealistic goal.

“It’s a realistic dream,” Licata said. “When I was younger I said I want to play in the NFL and people laughed. I always believed in me and so did my parents and sisters. Now I see two guys [Khalil Mack and Branden Oliver] go on and succeed, and guys before me too like James Starks [Green Bay Packers] and Drew Willy [Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League]. It shows that if you work hard enough you can achieve your goals.”

UB hosts Duquesne University in its season opener at 3:30 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 30 at UB Stadium. The game will be streaming live on ESPN3.

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