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Excited for an Orange opportunity

Saranac Lake’s Patrick Alberga adjusting to football, academics as a freshman at Syracuse University

Patrick Alberga chases down Plattsburgh High quarterback Liam Perkins during Saranac Lake’s season-opening game a year ago on Sept. 7, 2019 at Wilson-Raymond Field. (Enterprise file photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — Attending Syracuse University as a 17-year-old freshman and as a member of the Orange football team has been quite an eye-opener for Patrick Alberga.

And after being on campus for a little more than a month, Alberga says so far, he’s enjoyed every minute of his new life as a college student-athlete. The 2020 Saranac Lake High School graduate began preseason practices on Aug. 2 and started classes two weeks ago.

Last spring, Alberga was accepted at Syracuse as a preferred walk-on for the football team, which guarantees him a spot on the roster. In an interview with the Enterprise Sunday, Alberga said he plans to stay with the football program for the next four years while pursing a degree in civil engineering.

” I want to go as far in football as I can. If I don’t go past college, I’ll be leaving here with a degree,” he said.

As a high school senior on the gridiron a year ago, Alberga was one of the biggest and most likely the strongest player in the Champlain Valley Athletic Conference. Now he is making the switch from dominating the competition to being the youngest member of Syracuse’s Division I squad and the smallest in the group of defensive lineman on the roster. The 6-4, 250-pound Alberga is one of eight defensive ends on the team, which has a roster of 110.

Alberga is facing a steep learning curve with Division I football, but he’s adjusting and eager to do what it takes to become a player at college’s highest level.

“What I’m learning is very heavily technique based,” Alberga said. “In high school, I could just run over guys. It’s completely different here. I’m going up against really, really big guys. So far at least, I haven’t really been focusing on trying to learn the formations. I’m just trying to get my technique a lot better.”

Alberga said when he played in high school, he was always looking for the ball while firing off the defensive line. He said at the college level when you’re lined up across from 300-plus pound offensive linemen, it’s all about watching where their hands are and reacting to that.

As a freshman, Alberga said he doesn’t expect to see any playing time this season, although he should be in uniform for home games at the Carrier Dome. He also doesn’t plan to travel for road contests this fall.

Although the coronavirus pandemic has wiped out the fall football seasons for many college teams, Syracuse, which competes in the Atlantic Coast Conference, still plans to play an 11-game schedule. The ACC is one of three major conferences in the so-called “Power Five” still slated to play fall football.

The Southeast Conference and the Big 12 are the other two major leagues continuing to move forward with fall football, while the Big Ten and PAC 12 have opted out of competition this year and instead are looking at playing their football schedules in spring 2021. As of the middle of August, 77 teams around the United States were still hoping to launch a fall football season.

Alberga is hopeful the Orange will be able to compete. If they do, they start the ACC schedule on the road Sept. 12 at the University of North Carolina, in a game that will have no fans in attendance.

“I’m thinking a season is going to happen but every new day can provide something completely different,” he said. “The PAC 12 and Big 10 canceled their seasons a little while after we started practicing, and when that happened, it got everyone’s attention. We knew that canceling our season was a real possibility. I hope that doesn’t happen.”

Alberga said dealing with the pandemic has been stressful, but added that he’s comfortable with how Syracuse is handling it both from a football and academic standpoint.

“For me it hasn’t been that big of a problem,” he said. “I’ve been tested four times since I’ve been here. The football players have their own dorms, there’s plenty of distance between students in the classrooms; I feel pretty safe.”

When it comes to eating, Alberga said the school has been quite accommodating in helping with his vegan diet, enough so that he was able to add about 10 pounds to his frame before losing most of that during the first week of practice.

“It’s not really a problem down here. The football team has its own cafeteria, some of the guys are gluten-free, we have some choices,” Alberga said.

For breakfast, Alberga described a typical meal being spinach, onion, tomatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, tofu and potatoes; lunch would be two cups of tofu and two “beefy burritos” and dinner could include rice, pasta and tofu. Toss in a couple of granola bars each day and Alberga says he is eating well.

Classes began for Alberga on Aug. 24, and he said so far, he’s been able to juggle taking the likes of chemistry and calculus along with his football life. He said when it comes to football, practices and meetings take up on average of three to five hours a day, with weightlifting sessions added in, and his studies take up a similar amount of time.

“Football and school haven’t been an issue yet,” he said. “I normally have a lot of free time. I’ve spent some of that time with photography. I’ve taken a lot of pictures around campus.”

Being raised in Saranac Lake, Alberga wanted to get a taste of city life after high school, which is another reason he decided to attend Syracuse.

“It’s awesome. It’s different from home — completely different,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I wanted to go to Syracuse. Growing up in Saranac Lake, it’s a small town, and I knew I wanted to experience what it’s like to live in a city. I’m liking it a lot.”

In an “It’s a small world” scenario, Alberga’s and his roommate and fellow teammate, Nate Erickson, have an interesting connection. For Erickson, a freshman defensive back from Greene, attending Syracuse is a family affair. His parents, Dan and Kelly, are both student-athlete alumni from Syracuse, and his brother Luke played football for the Orange. And Dan just happened to be a football teammate of Saranac Lake’s Cy Ellsworth, who was an Orange offensive lineman and captain and has coached Alberga in both football and track and field.

“I didn’t have any idea,” Alberga said. “Cy actually sent me a text telling me they were teammates. That was pretty cool.”

Alberga, who will celebrate his 18th birthday on Saturday, is believed to be one of just three Division I college football players — all linemen — to come out of Saranac Lake’s High School program. He joins Ellsworth and Dustin Plumadore, who played for the Army at West Point and was a team captain.

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