The Youngstown State football team begins preparations for the 2012 campaign when more than 90 players report for fall workouts on Thursday. The first practice is set for Friday at Stambaugh Stadium (4 p.m.) while the season opener is Sept. 1 at Pittsburgh.
The Penguins, who finished 6-5 overall and 4-4 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, will be looking to continue to show improvement under third-year Head Coach Eric Wolford. YSU won three more games (all league games) then in Wolford's first campaign. Highlighting the 2011 season was a win at top-ranked and eventual FCS champion North Dakota State in November.
Youngstown State returns all 11 starters on an offense that averaged a school record 36.2 points and 458.6 total offensive yards per game. In 2011, the Penguins were the only FCS team in the country to rush for more than 2,500 yards and pass for more than 2,500 yards in the regular season. YSU also had 27 passing touchdowns and 26 rushing touchdowns.
Leading the offense will be a the dymanic duo of senior tailback Jamaine Cook and junior quarterback Kurt Hess. Also, the entire starting offensive line of LT Brian Radakovich, LG Lamar Mady, C Mark Pratt, RG Chris Elkins and RT D.J. Main returns. Tight end Will Shaw and wide receivers Christian Bryan, Jelani Berassa, Kevin Watts and Kintrell Disher all return.
Cook and Hess were both first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selections in 2011 and a both on the Walter Payton Watch List to start the 2012 campaign.
Last season, Cook rushed for 1,386 yards on 271 carries and scored 13 touchdowns. Hess set a school record with 26 touchdown passes. He completed 187-of-288 passes for 2,468 yards.
Bryan set a school freshman record with 43 receptions for 722 yards and six touchdowns. Berassa had a team-best eight touchdown receptions while catching 37 passes for 552 yards. Watts had 28 receptions, Cook contributed 20 while Shaw and Disher had eight each.
On defense, YSU returns six starters as Aronde Stanton, Travis Williams, Teven Williams, Jeremey Edwards, Jimmy May Jr. and Josh Garner all return. Travis Williams and Stanton were one of just four players on defense to start all 11 games a year ago.
Despite not starting the first three games, Teven Williams came on strong and led the team with 67 total tackles, including 38 solo stops. Travis Williams was second with 58 while Edwards was third with 54. Garner tied for fourth finishing with 47. Stanton had 32 tackles for the year.
Senior placekicker David Brown and junior punter Nick Liste both return after solid performances in 2011. Brown converted 53 point-after conversions and made three-of-four field-goal attempts last year. Liste averaged 39.8 yards per punt with 16 of his kicks being downed inside the opposition's 20-yard line.
The Penguins face a tough schedule in 2012 that will challenge them weekly. YSU opens up with a contest at Pittsburgh. It is the Penguins' third trip to Heinz Field. Then home games with Valparaiso (Sept. 8) and 2011-playoff participant Albany (Sept. 15) follow.
Conference play starts on Sept. 22 with a contest against prenniel league power UNI. After a week off, the Penguins travel to North Dakota State (Oct. 6) and Illinois State (Oct. 13). North Dakota State was 14-1 last year and won the FCS Championship while the Redbirds are coming off a seven-win campaign.
YSU returns home for a contest against Southern Illinois. The Penguins have won two straight against the Salukis. On the other hand, YSU visits South Dakota State on Oct. 27 looking to snap a three-game losing skid to the Jackrabbits. The Homecoming contest on Nov. 2 is against new MVFC member South Dakota. It will be the first meeting between the two programs.
The final road game of the season is at Western Illinois, while the final home game is Nov. 17 against Indiana State.
Season tickets for the 2012 six-game home slate are on sale by calling the YSU Athletic Ticket Office at (330) 941-1YSU.
Key Returning Starters (Offense)
Jamaine Cook, TB; Senior -- First-Team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection...first YSU tailback since Marcus Mason (2006) and fifth overall to be named first-team all-league since 1997...rushed for 1,386 yards on 271 carries and scored 13 touchdowns...led the team in scoring with 84 points...caught 20 passes for 183 yards and a touchdown...had 1,599 all-purpose yards...was 19th in the voting for the 2011 Walter Payton Award...average of 126 yards rushing per game was seventh in the NCAA (FCS) and second in MVFC...was 14th in the FCS averaging 145.4 yards per contest...had eight 100-yard rushing games, including a school-record-tying streak of six straight contests...had 90 or more yards in 10 games...scored touchdowns in seven games...in MVFC play, averaged 127.8 rushing yards per game, which was second in the league.
Kurt Hess, QB; Junior -- First-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection...finished third in voting for the MVFC's Offensive Player of the Year...named to the MVFC's all-academic first team...completed 187-of-288 passes for 2,468 yards and a school-record 26 touchdowns...completion percentage of 64.8 percent was a school record...had a passing efficiency of 161.1...ranked fourth the Football Championship Subdivision in that category...threw a touchdown pass in all 11 games and had eight multiple-touchdown performances...had three rushing touchdowns and finished with 165 yards on 40 carries...was 147-of-226 (65 percent) for 1,996 with 22 touchdowns in MVFC play.
Mark Pratt, C; Senior -- Second-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection...started all 11 games at center in first year with the program…posted the highest overall grade of 83 percent of all YSU offensive linemen…name the program's Jim Zdelar Offensive Lineman of the Year...played 717 snaps for the season…leader of an offensive line that averaged a school-record 36.2 points per game and had a school-best 458.6 total offensive yards per game…exceptional balance with 231.1 rushing and 227.5 passing…YSU's offense scored 53 touchdowns for the season…named team's Offensive Lineman of the Game against Michigan State, Illinois State, Western Illinois and UNI.
Key Returning Starters (Defense)
Aronde Stanton, DT; Senior -- Started all 11 games at defensive tackle in first year with the program…finished with 32 total tackles, including 19 solo stops…had two sacks and four tackles for losses…had five pass breakups...was the only defensive lineman on the team with an interception...was one of just two players on the squad with a fumble recovery and interception...intercepted a pass and returned it 19 yards against Western Illinois…forced a fumble and returned it 22 yards at Indiana State…had 26 tackles, including 16 solos in MVFC action…had sacks against Valparaiso (two-yard loss) and Missouri State (three-yard loss)...finished with five tackles on three occasions.
Teven Williams, LB; Sophomore -- Honorable-Mention All-MVFC selection...named to the Missouri Valley Football Conference's All-Newcomer team...played in all 11 games, starting the final eight games at MIKE Linebacker…led the team with 67 total tackles and 38 unassisted tackles…had three tackles for loss, including one sack...also recovered a fumble...had five tackles in at least eight games...…had 55 tackles, including 32 solos in MVFC action...had a season-high 10 tackles against South Dakota State.
Travis Williams, LB: Sophomore -- Named to the Missouri Valley Football Conference's All-Newcomer team...started all 11 games at WILL linebacker...was the only linebacker to start all 11 games...credited with 58 total tackles, including 31 solo stops…had five pass breakups, a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery…pass breakups came in five separate games...had at least five tackles on six occasions…posted a season-high 11 stops, including nine solos in win at Southern Illinois.
PRACTICES (All scheduled for Stambaugh Stadium and subject to change)
Friday, August 3 - 4 p.m.
Saturday, August 4 - 4 p.m.
Sunday, August 5 - 4 p.m.
Monday, August 6 - 4 p.m.
Tuesday, August 7 - 4 p.m.
Wednesday, August 8 - 9 a.m./5 p.m.
Thursday, August 9 - 10 a.m.
Friday, August 10 - 9 a.m./5 p.m.
Saturday, August 11 - 10 a.m. (SCRIMMAGE)
Monday, August 13 - 9 a.m./ 5 p.m.
Tuesday, August 14 - 10 a.m.
Wednesday, August 15 - 9 a.m./5 p.m.
Thursday, August 16 - 10 a.m.
Friday, August 17 - 10 a.m.
Saturday, August 18 - 10 a.m. (SCRIMMAGE)
Monday, August 20 - 10 a.m.
Tuesday, August 21 - 10 a.m.