At spring practice, Licata lifts Bulls from off the field
Daniel, Michael getting first-team reps while Licata rehabs
Sophomore quarterback Tony Daniel takes a snap in the football team’s practice on April 5. Daniel and freshman quarterback Collin Michael have both seen more reps this spring due to sophomore quarterback Joe Licata sitting out with a hip injury. Chad Cooper, The Spectrum
In April 2013, quarterback Joe Licata was in the midst of a fierce competition for the starting position with Alex Zordich when Licata injured his hip.
The injury never went away, and he knew he'd get a post-season diagnosis he wouldn't like.
"I was able to [play], so I wanted to [play]," Licata said. "There were alternative routes, but I wasn't going to sit out. Those guys needed me out there. They needed a quarterback and I was the best option at the time, so I felt like it was my duty to this team and I wanted to be on the field."
The Bulls began spring practice this year March 26. Buffalo has been practicing about four days a week in preparation for its Blue-White scrimmage Saturday, April 19.
Licata, who will be a redshirt junior in the fall, started all 13 games in 2013 with a torn labrum in his hip. He still finished with 233 completions, 2,824 yards, 24 touchdowns and a 132.7 quarterback rating. He didn't have an MRI until after Buffalo's Dec. 21 bowl game, a loss to San Diego State, but he wasn't surprised to learn he had a tear in his hip. He and the training staff expected as much when the pain wasn't going away.
"I didn't even know you had a labrum in your hip," Licata said. "I thought it was only your shoulder."
He had the surgery Jan. 7 and the recovery usually takes four to six months. Licata said his rehabilitation has been going well and he is beginning to throw and jog a little bit, but he still can't move laterally very well. He expects to be near 100 percent in June.
Licata is the first returning Week One starting quarterback for head coach Jeff Quinn since he accepted the job five years ago. Quinn said Licata's return breeds "confidence and consistency," and Quinn praised him for his play last season while battling the nagging injury.
"He's a tough kid," Quinn said. "He fought through it. It's just something that any great player would do for his team and that's what Joe's all about."
Licata continues to serve as a mentor to the other quarterbacks during his recovery. He has yet to participate in any drills aside from simple throws and catches, which has allowed junior Tony Daniel and sophomore Colin Michael to earn valuable first-team reps.
"[Licata's] been another coach for us," Daniel said. "Telling us what he sees, what he would do in certain situations when we are out there because he's been out there, he's been through all the games."
Michael, likely to be UB's third quarterback,echoed Daniel's statement.
"Joe's got that game experience, so he sees it faster than we do," Michael said.
With his time on the sideline, Licata said he's been able to contribute through his leadership and develop that phase of his game. He called last year's senior class "the best that has ever really gone through this place" and said he knows his teammates will lean on him more than ever for leadership.
"We got to have leaders to step up and replace their leadership," Licata said. "I think I'm one of the main guys. Obviously being the quarterback, it's a natural leadership position."
Quinn said his main focus during camp is getting the quarterbacks and wide receivers on the same page. The Bulls lost their top two wide receivers from last season in Alex Neutz and Fred Lee.
Until Licata can participate fully, Daniel and Michaelare doing the bulk of this work.
"We are just all getting more reps with him out," Daniel said. "[It's] giving us a chance to show ourselves what we can do and building up our relationship with those guys we don't get a lot of reps with."
Daniel said there's "never really an offseason" and the Bulls' start of spring practice proves it. Buffalo's season ended Dec. 21 with the first day of spring practice starting March 26 - a 95-day layoff.
Licata has been working closely with quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Alex Wood, who was previously the offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach.Licata acknowledged that though he has been awarded the No. 1 quarterback position, he can't become complacent.
"If you ever feel relaxed, that's when you lose your job," Licata said.
Quinn has liked what he's seen from his second and third quarterbacks. He said both quarterbacks have improved since last season and Quinn values the opportunity for the two to familiarize themselves with the first team, in the event Daniel or Michael are needed in a game.
"Repetition is the mother of learning and you learn by getting those opportunities and certainly they are taking more advantage of it," Quinn said.
Daniel and Michael will lead the Bulls in their annual Blue-White Game, which is set for 2 p.m. April 19 at UB Stadium.
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