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Underrated in high school, Albany's Jeff Undercuffler has FCS teams on high alert

Great Danes' quarterback led the FCS in passing TDs in 2019 with 41.

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University of Albany quarterback Jeff Undercuffler was unheralded out of high school but has made a name for himself at the collegiate level. Bill Ziskin / Albany Athletics
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FARGO — He has a last name that is hard to forget and it’s not because of the unique nature of it. Jeff Undercuffler has made himself known across the Division I FCS landscape because of a strong right arm that has brought his team into the playoff conversation.

The University of Albany (N.Y.) will bring its aerial show to Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome on Saturday afternoon behind their 6-foot-5, 231-pound quarterback. If North Dakota State was looking for a game to test its pass defense, it found it.

And then some.

In his last full season in 2019, Undercuffler completed 262 of 464 passes for 3,543 yards. Most striking were his 41 touchdown passes against just 10 interceptions. His TDs led the FCS.

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NDSU has seen its last three starters reach the NFL, although not with those types of passing statistics. Undercuffler is looking forward to playing in the same house as Carson Wentz, Easton Stick and Trey Lance.

“Can’t wait,” he said. “Trey Lance, Carson, Easton Stick … all of those quarterbacks are phenomenal. For me personally, I want to go in there and play my game; stay cool, calm and collected and know where I’m going with the football as fast and efficiently as possible.”

An FCS quarterback with 41 touchdown passes in a season coming to Fargo from Albany was never on the radar when Undercuffler was a high school player at Holy Cross Academy in Burlington, N.J.

He was known more as a baseball player coming up through the prep ranks, often playing on traveling teams that competed in Florida and South Carolina. His high school team won a state championship.

“No one knew I could play quarterback,” Undercuffler said.

He didn’t play the position until his freshman year in high school. Albany head coach Greg Gattuso said Holy Cross didn’t throw much, either, further hampering the visibility of Undercuffler’s arm.

“He didn’t play in a fancy offense,” Gattuso said. “I still think he’s developing. He’s come a long way. His first game was against Maine after halftime and his first pass was a touchdown. He’s a gutsy guy. He’s working toward being a great football player and his upside is higher. I think he’s going to be exciting.”

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His physical stature fits more of the mold of Wentz. Last spring was tough on Albany, which finished 1-3 in a pandemic-shortened spring season. Undercuffler played in three games before an injury kept him out of the last game.

The return of a normal-looking fall season has him forgetting about last spring.

“I can’t wait to go out in the Fargodome and play the game I love with my brothers and all my coaches,” Undercuffler said. “I just can’t wait to fly around and have fun.”

In the Missouri Valley Football Conference, NDSU is more accustomed to dual-threat quarterbacks in the run and pass game. The last QB the Bison faced of this throwing magnitude was probably UC Davis’ Jake Maier, who was 29 of 48 in NDSU’s 27-16 non-conference win in 2019.

“He’s a big body who sees the defense really well,” Bison head coach Matt Entz said of Undercuffler. “He got banged up in the spring so I’m sure the competitor in him is extremely hungry to come to the dome with his teammates.”

Jeff would like to dispel the notion he was around when Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, but he is on his third decade of reporting with Forum Communications. The son of a reporter and an English teacher, and the brother of a reporter, Jeff has worked at the Jamestown Sun, Bismarck Tribune and since 1990 The Forum, where he's covered North Dakota State athletics since 1995.
Jeff has covered all nine of NDSU's Division I FCS national football titles and has written three books: "Horns Up," "North Dakota Tough" and "Covid Kids." He is the radio host of "The Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack" April through August.
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