HEISER: Central York football standout commits to D-I program, now focuses on Panthers season
- Central York offensive tackle Josh Gaffney has committed to the University at Albany.
- Albany plays at the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision level.
- The Great Danes are coming off a 9-5 season, including an FCS playoff triumph.
- The 6-foot, 4-inch, 310-pound Gaffney was Central's offensive MVP for the 2019 season.
On a football team stacked with NCAA Division I talent, Josh Gaffney was named Central York's offensive MVP in 2019.
Even more remarkable, Gaffney earned the honor as a junior while playing a position that typically goes underappreciated — tackle.
His abilities obviously didn't go unnoticed by his teammates and coaches with the Panthers. They also didn't go unnoticed by numerous NCAA Division I college coaches. Since the spring, Gaffney picked up nine offers from D-I Football Championship Subdivision programs.
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Saturday night, Gaffney made his final choice, verbally committing to play for the University at Albany in New York. He'll receive a full scholarship.
"It's a weird time with the coronavirus," Gaffney said. "You don’t know what’s going to happen. Spots are filling up quickly and I didn’t want to lose a spot. So I committed a little earlier than I planned to, but I'm happy I did."
Joining a strong program: The 6-foot, 4-inch, 310-pounder will join a Great Danes team coming off a 9-5 season in 2019, including an FCS playoff victory. The Danes were second in one of the stronger FCS conferences in the nation — the Colonial Athletic Association. Albany finished behind only James Madison, which advanced to the FCS title game before falling to perennial power North Dakota State.
Gaffney's future head coach at Albany is a familiar name to longtime Penn State fans in York County. Greg Gattuso started on the defensive line for PSU's national title team in 1982. He later became the head coach at FCS Duquesne, compiling a 97-32 record from 1993 until 2004. Gattuso was later an assistant for both Pitt and Maryland before taking the head job at Albany in 2014. At Maryland, Gattuso worked under Susquehannock High School graduate Randy Edsall.
"I love the coaching staff," Gaffney said. "... (Albany is) a little far away (about 300 miles from York), but it's not too bad a drive, and they have great facilities, a great program and play in a great league."
Gaffney ultimately chose Albany over Fordham, Monmouth and Richmond. He expects to redshirt at Albany as a freshman to work on his strength and footwork. He says, however, that he can already bench press 275 pounds six times. He's planning to major in the health science field in the hopes of becoming a strength coach.
Looking ahead to Central season: Gaffney picked Albany despite never visiting the campus. All of his recruiting by the Danes was done virtually, but the lack of a visit doesn't concern him. He feels comfortable with his decision.
"I really did enjoy the recruiting process," Gaffney said. "It is stressful at times, but it’s really a relief to have it behind me and now I can focus on my senior year at Central. Winning a district championship is the goal."
Gaffney helped clear the way for a Central offense that produced 31.2 points per game last season with more than 200 yards rushing and 100 yards passing per game. The Panthers finished 9-2 overall and won York-Adams League Division I at 7-0. Central won each of its D-I games by at least 21 points en route to a District 3 Class 6-A playoff berth.
Now, Gaffney and his teammates are hoping for more in a COVID-19-shortened season that is slated to start Friday, Sept. 18, against Red Lion. Among the Panthers' returning players is junior quarterback Beau Pribula, who has already committed to Penn State. Tight end Kyle Fontes and wideout Taylor Wright-Rawls also have FCS offers, while wideout Judah Tomb and linebacker Jack Smith are regarded by many as D-I talents.
It has the makings of a very special season at Central — if the coronavirus doesn't interfere.
"I'm so excited for the season, no matter how many games we play," Gaffney said. "I just hope the season doesn’t get canceled. We just have to follow all the rules. We need to stay safe and do our part."
Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.