First Practice Gets Underway Thursday Afternoon As Penguins Start Fall Camp

Justin Spencer
Justin Spencer

The 2016 Youngstown State football season gets underway on Thursday when the Penguins practice for the first time. The group will take the field at Stambaugh stadium at 4 p.m. and hold 17 practices before classes resume on August 24.

YSU has three preseason All-Americans, led by first-team pick DE Derek Rivers. Joining Rivers on the STATS preseason All-America squad are LeRoy Alexander (second team) and Zak Kennedy (third team).

The Penguins return 44 of 61 letterwinners from last year's squad.

On this year's roster, YSU will have 16 seniors: Alexander, Kenny Bishop, Dylan Colucci, Joshmere Dawson, Nate Dortch, Brock Eisenhuth, Rickey Hagood II, Avery Moss, Jamar Pinnock, David Rivers, Derek Rivers, Martin Ruiz, Jameel Smith, Eric Thompson, Jody Webb and Jacob Wood.

Of the 16 seniors on the roster, 13 have started at least one game in their YSU career.

Practices are open, however, field access is restricted to players, coaches, staff members, media and invited guests. If practice sessions are moved into the WATTS, the workouts are closed to the public.

Season tickets are on sale by calling (330) 941-1978 or visiting the YSU Athletic Ticket Office in Stambaugh Stadium. Penguin Club memberships are available by calling (330) 941-2351.

Season Preview

Offense

On offense, players who accounted for 417 of the 471 rushing attempts and 1,918 of the 2,198 yards return. However, YSU lost its top two receivers in Andrew Williams and Andre Stubbs. The two players combined for 71 of the Guins' 167 receptions and 1,054 of the 2,117 yards receiving in 2015. They also had eight of the 14 total touchdowns and all but two by the wide receivers. The other wide receivers on the roster last year combined for 40 receptions. The players who threw all 311 passing attempts and all 2,117 yards are back in 2016 as well.

At quarterback, starter Hunter Wells, dual-threat Ricky Davis, junior college transfer Trent Hosick and redshirt freshman Nathan Mays will all see reps in the fall. 

Wells started all 11 games and threw for 1,975 yards and had 13 touchdown passes. He completed 156-of-291 attempts in his sophomore campaign and has started 18 games in his two years with the program. Davis saw the most playing time of his career rushing four scores and throwing for another. He ran for 195 yards on 42 attempts and completed eight passes. He saw significantly more playing time in the final six games as the Penguins employed a dual-QB system.

Hosick joined the team in the spring after spending two seasons at Arizona Western Community College. Another dual-threat QB, he completed 52-of-101 passes for 787 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for 216 yards on 67 carries as a sophomore. He was 10-2 as a starter in his two seasons with the program. 

Mays redshirted in 2015, but had a solid performance in the Spring Game last April.

YSU is again stacked at tailback with Webb, Martin RuizSidney SandidgeTevin McCaster and Joe Alessi all returning.

In his career, Ruiz has rushed for 3,153 yards while Webb has 1,917. Webb was the Penguins' top rusher last year running for 857 yards on 122 carries while Ruiz had 739 on 188 attempts. The duo combined for 13 touchdowns, with nine coming from Webb. McCaster and Sandidge each saw limited action a year ago while Alessi redshirted.

YSU has added tailbacks London Pearson, Devon McNutt and Jayson Gobble this fall.

The top returning receiver for the Penguins is I'tavious Harvin who caught 22 passes last year for 279 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Darien Townsend had a career-best 10 catches for 99 yards. Harvin and Townsend are the most experienced of the unit. Robert Byrd and Isiah Scott saw playing time last year.

The Guins were able to redshirt Darius ShacklefordJermiah Braswell, Tre'Von Williams, Zack Torbert, Lasander Washington and Ryan Emans last year. Some key offseason additions to the unit include Florida transfer Alvin Bailey, junior-college transfers Damoun Patterson and Stefan Derrick as well as freshman Samuel St. Surin. Donovan McWilson and Brad Good are also back from the 2015 squad.

On the offensive line, starters Dylan Colucci, Justin SpencerGavin WigginsBrock Eisenhuth and Cameron Fraser. Spencer was the only offensive lineman to start every game a year ago. During the season, nine different players started at least one game. Of the nine, six are back this spring (Cole Newsome is the other).

Colucci started 10 contests while Fraser started seven of the final eight. Wiggins did not play the first seven games, but came on strong to start the final four. Eisenhuth started the first five before being sidelined with a concussion. The ever-changing unit allowed just 14 sacks on the year. Only Jeff Rotheram returns who saw playing time during the 2015 campaign.

The Guins were able to redshirt Cole McKenryJason SimsJames Wilson and Jacob Zinni. New to the program are Norman Fox, Tristan Roberts, Jarred Jones, Justin Metzel and Giacamo Cappabianca.

At tight end, the entire group from 2015 returns. Kuhn emerged as a rushing threat last season. He had 24 carries for 80 yards and four touchdowns. Jacob Wood started all 11 contests while Anthony Parente and Kevin Rader also had significant playing time. The group accounted for 16 receptions last year. YSU redshirted tight end Mark Schuler a year ago.

Defense

The top six tacklers from last year's vastly improved unit are back. Those individuals combined for an impressive 348 stops, including 211 solo tackles. In the FCS, YSU ranked in the top 10 in six defensive categories according to the final stats by the NCAA. Of note, the Penguins led the nation in Fewest Passing Yards Allowed (116.7), Fewest Completions Allowed (83) and tied for first in First-Downs Defense (145).

Derek Rivers, a two-time first-team All-MVFC selection, enters his final season as the program's leader in career sacks and is the only returning starter on the defensive line. He has 26 sacks entering his final year with the program.

The secondary returns first-team All-MVFC honoree Alexander, Jameel Smith and rotating starters Eric ThompsonDavid Rivers III and Nate Dortch. Also returning are D.J. ThomasKenny BishopAvery Larkin (who had one start), Solomon Warfield and Jalyn Powell. The only members from last year's defensive backfield who do not return are Deion Hall, Kenneth Durden and Tre' Moore.

Combined the 10 members of the secondary who are back had 201 tackles whether they came on defense or on special teams. New to the secondary are Billy Nicoe Hurst, Darius Hall and Kieran Winn while Kyle Hegedus and Mike Nash redshirted.

Wright, a junior linebacker, was a second-team All-MVFC selection after a strong first year in the program. Wright led the team with 78 total tackles, including 48 solo stops. Impressively he had 9.5 TFLs and six sacks for the campaign.

Linebackers Jaylin Kelly and Armand Dellovade combined for 97 tackles at the other linebacker positions. Dellovade had a strong true freshman season with 54 tackles and was an honorable-mention all-league recipient. Kelly ended up with 43 tackles on the year. Wright, Dellovade and Kelly combined for 175 tackles on the season.

The only other linebackers who return with experience are Jamar Pinnock and Nathan Pittman. Newcomers to the team are Jonathan Pollock and Malachi Newell while Curtis Parks and Christiaan Randall-Posey are coming off redshirt seasons. Cole Kochman provides depth after playing on special teams a year ago.

On the front line, Rivers has the bulk of experience with the unit. YSU lost two every-game starters in Terrell Williams and Steve Zaborsky and another experienced player in Emmanuel Kromah. The trio was credited with 102 tackles in 2015. Cody Squiric returns after starting the first seven games of the year.

Senior defensive end Avery Moss will see an increased role in 2016. Moss had 25 total tackles and three sacks in his first year at YSU last year.

Sophomores Savon Smith and Lamont Ragland saw time at defensive tackle during their true freshman campaigns. Veteran defensive ends Joshmere Dawson and Fazson Chapman also return for the Penguins. Redshirts Simon Smith and Donald Mesier will be counted on to contibute as well.

Special Teams

Kennedy returns as the placekicker following an outstanding freshman season while necomer Nate Needham will be in the mix to take over as the Guins' punter. Also, Connor McFadden returns after seeing the first playing time of his career a year ago.

Kennedy had an outstanding first season as he was named first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference. He was the first freshman placekicker to earn the award since 1992. He made a school-record 19 field goals on the campaign. 

Sophomore long snapper Steven Wethli returns for his second year with the program.