In each of the past three seasons, the Youngstown State football team has won more games than it has the season before. Now after finishing the 2013 campaign ranked in the top 20 and posting an eight-win campaign, the Penguins will be looking to turn the corner and be one of 24 teams to reach the FCS postseason.
YSU returns firepower at tight end, tailback and wide receiver, but new position battles at the quarterback spot and along the offensive line will be a key focus in fall camp. On defense, the secondary and the defensive front both return three starters. A simplified defensive philosophy will help a young and hungry group have success on that side of the football.
For the past four years, the offensive unit has been led by quarterback Kurt Hess. Hess started every game of Head Coach Eric Wolford's first four seasons and now the torch will be passed to either Dante Nania, Ricky Davis, Tanner Garry or Hunter Wells.
Nania has the most career completions of the group (12) while Garry has the lone touchdown pass of the four. Davis redshirted last year while Wells is a true freshman. Nania completed 11 of his 12 passes last season while Garry connected on three tosses against National Champion North Dakota State.
No matter who earns the starting nod at quarterback, the tailback spot is stocked with talent in sophomores Martin Ruiz and Jody Webb, junior Demond Hymes, redshirt Edmond Jacobs and newcomers Ryan Moore, Sidney Sandidge and Raekwon Washington.
Ruiz was named the conference's newcomer and freshman of the year last season after rushing for 1,094 yards on 192 carries and scored 15 touchdowns. Those numbers were all school bests by a freshman for the second-team all-league pick. Webb averaged 7.2 yards per attempt with 345 yards on 48 totes and scored six times.
At tight end, senior Nate Adams tops the position while sophomore Jacob Wood, senior Kintrell Disher and freshmen Shane Kuhn and Chance Towery will be able involved. Adams had 15 receptions for 225 yards and four touchdowns last season and ranked second on the team with four TD receptions. For his YSU career he has 23 catches for 320 yards and six touchdowns. Wood had one reception for 49 yards while Disher had his year cut short with a season-ending knee injury. He has 25 career receptions for 283 yards and two scores.
On the offensive line, Brock Eisenhuth returns at guard while off-and-on starter Trevor Strickland is also back. Eisenhuth started the first eight games before missing three of the last four with an injury. Strickland started twice at left tackle and three times at right tackle last year. Senior Stephen Page has starting experience at center and will replace second-team All-American Chris Elkins. In the spring, Dylan Colucci and Justin Spencer saw the bulk of the work with the top unit. Others in the mix include Matt Bell, Cole Newsome, Anthony Parente, Cameron Fraser, Charles Zaborsky, Jeff Rotheram, Dwayne Williams, Jim Bertovich and Christian Wilson.
The wide receivers feature mainstays Andre Stubbs, Christian Bryan, Jelani Berassa, Andrew Williams and Michael Wheary to go with redshirts Brad Good, Michael Callender and Ian Banks-Tillman and incoming freshmen Jaylon Brown, Logan Rhea, Nick Bozzo, Darien Townsend and I'tavious Harvin.
The five returnees caught 103 passes for 1,329 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. Stubbs led the way with 29 grabs for 359 yards and five touchdowns. Williams caught 26 passes for a team-leading 395 yards and two scores. Bryan had 26 receptions for 306 yards and two TDs. Wheary had 16 grabs for 195 yards and a score while Berassa had six receptions for 74 yards. Bryan has 102 catches in his YSU career, Williams 53, Stubbs 51, Berassa 47 and Wheary 23.
Under fifth-year offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery, the Guins have set numerous game, season and career records in his high-octane system.
The defense will undergo a transformation under defensive coordinator Jamie Bryant.
On the defensive line, starters Steve Zaborsky, Terrell Williams and Emmanuel Kromah are back. YSU lost one starter from the unit in Kyle Sirl. Pass-rush specialists Desmond Williams and Derek Rivers will be counted on to help put heat on the opposing quarterbacks.
Terrell Williams had 30 total tackles, including 17 solo stops while Kromah had 39 tackles, including six TFLs and four sacks. Zaborsky started eight games and had 14 tackles. Octavius Brown and Rickey Hagood II will play key roles up the middle after seeing time last year. Brown played in 11 games and was credited with 18 tackles despite battling nagging injuries. Eric Myers and Joshmere Dawson saw spot duty last season while DaShawn Scott, Milton Williams and Cole Kochman sat out as redshirts. Newcomers to the unit include Johnson Louigene, Cody Squiric and Warren Marlowe.
At linebacker, Travis Williams leads the group in terms of experience and numbers. Williams started eight games while Williams posted 51 total tackles, including 29 solo stops, while making eight starts a year ago. In his career, he has 215 tackles in 33 games played.
Kevon Caffey, who made six starts last season, finished with 38 tackles, 21 of which were solos. He was second on the team with 6.5 TFLs. In the spring, redshirt Mike Palumbo emeraged at the SAM spot while sophomore Jaylin Kelly took over at the MIKE. B.J. Welch, Dubem Nwadiogbu, Antoine Cox amd John Linkosky are the only other linebackers who were with the team last year. Otherwise newcomers Jacob Studdard, Jonathan Stewart, Nathan Pittman, Joey Tabachino, Johnson Louigene will all be counted on to perform.
In the secondary, Julius Childs, Donald D'Alesio and Jameel Smith are starters who return. D'Aleiso finished second on the team with 70 tackles, Childs was third on the team with 68 tackles while Smith was fourth with 60. The Penguins will be looking to find a corner to replace two-year starter Dale Peterman. In the mix for that spot are Kenny Bishop, Eric Thompson, Deion Hall, Chrispin Lee, D.J. Thomas, Nathan Dortch and David Rivers. Rivers, Hall, Bishop and Thompson all saw action last season. At the safety spots, Tre' Moore saw time last season while Shane Dixon, Kevin Wilson, Asim Pleas and Robert Byrd are all new to the program.
On special teams, Joey Cejudo returns along with long snapper Nathan Gibbs. Last year as placekicker, Cejudo made 6-of-8 field-goal attempts and went 49-of-51 on point-after conversions. Freshman Nick Sheely and Cejudo will battle for the punter role while redshirt Connor McFadden and freshman Charlie Stack can push the other two for various kicking duties. Stubbs was a first-team all-conference performer as a kickoff returner averaging 26.9 yards a return.