The Youngstown State football team opens its 2011 football fall camp session on Saturday. The Penguins, who return 39 letterwinners from last year's squad, will welcome 46 newcomers who were not with the program last fall.
Of the 46 new faces, 29 will start camp on the defensive side of the ball. The additions will give the Guins increased depth, improved competition at all positions and the offseason work by the players will be put to the test come Saturday.
Second-year Head Coach Eric Wolford said he is excited entering the start of camp.
"I think there is a tremendous amount of potential," Wolford said as the Penguins enter camp. "We felt like last year, regardless of the record, we were very close. Close doesn't count though. If we increased our strength, increased our manpower, meaning more players, we would have a chance to do the things we are expected to do around here."
On offense, the Penguins returning starters include quarterback Kurt Hess, tailback Jamaine Cook, tight end Carson Sharbaugh, wide receiver Kevin Watts, wide receiver Ely Ducatel, left tackle Andrew Radakovich and right guard Chris Elkins.
Cook and Radakovich are preseason All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selections. Cook is also on the preseason Watch List for the Walter Payton Award.
Hess passed for 2,117 yards completing 179-of-304 passes for 12 touchdowns. Cook had 1,276 yards on 241 rushes and 11 touchdowns. Freshman tailback Adaris Bellamy tied Cook with team-high honors scoring 11 touchdowns. Ducatel is the top returning receiver with 27 catches last year for 336 yards. Juilian Harrell and Watts combined for 23 catches on the season. Cook had 25 receptions a year ago as well.
The offensive line must replace three starters with the departures of Justin Rechichar, Eric Rodemoyer and Bobby Coates. Junior college transfers Mark Pratt (center) and Lamar Mady (offensive guard) along with the return of tackle D.J. Main will shore up that position. Main started the first seven games of the season before being sidelined with a broken foot.
YSU only redshirted 11 players last year, but that group featured some talent. Wide receiver Jelani Berassa suffered a season-ending knee injury in fall camp and sat out. Linebacker Taylor Hill had an outstanding freshman season in 2009, but redshirted as a sophomore.
On defense, returning starters include DT Andrew Johnson, DE Obinna Ekweremuba, S Donald D'Alesio, S Will Shaw, LB John Sasson, LB Dom Rich, LB David Rach. Shaw will move from safety to linebacker this season. D'Aleiso took over at cornerback in the spring after playing safety last fall.
With 29 newcomers to that unit, plenty of spots will be up for grabs. In the spring, junior college transfers Nick DeKraker and Josh Fenderson joined the program while senior defensive Daniel Stewart showed he can be a pass-rush threat.
Of the nine seniors on defense, three are on the defensive line - Johnson, Ekweremuba and Stewart, three are linebackers - Sasson, Rach, Deonta Tate, and three are in the secondary - Josh Lee, Scott Sentner and Deionte Williams.
Leading the special teams will be punter Nick Liste and placekicker David Brown. Liste was an honorable-mention all-league selection as a redshirt freshman in 2010 while Brown joined the program in January as a junior college transfer. True freshman Zach Smith joins the program as a placekicker this fall. YSU's 15th senior is long snapper Nate Schkurko.
Wolford said he will deliver an important message on Friday when the team meets for the initial time of 2011.
"We just need to finish everything," Wolford said. "I don't know if that's the overall message, but we know if we finish better, you all know where we are at. The first message is that there is a standard around here. That standard is postseason play and championships period. Don't deviate from it. There's nothing else. That's what's driving all of us. That's where the expectation are. Embrace it and go find a way to get it done."
YSU opens the season on Friday, Sept. 2 at Michigan State. The contest will be televised on the Big Ten Network and carried on 570 WKBN AM. For ticket information contact the YSU Athletic Ticket Office at (330) 941-1978.