In each of the past two seasons the Youngstown State football team has won more games than it has the season before. Now after finishing the 2012 campaign 7-4, the Penguins will be looking to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
YSU returns the pieces from last season's squad that can get it into the expanded playoff field of 24 teams so 2013 could be a fun ride.
A talented offense led by a veteran quarterback, an up-and-coming defense and revamped special-teams unit will pave the way to the postseason for the Penguins.
Senior quarterback Kurt Hess is the headliner. Hess has started 33 games as the Penguins' QB and ranks first in career touchdown passes (53), passing yards per game (202.9), passer rating (141.78) and 200-yard passing games (18). He is second in yards (6,697) and completion percentage (62.3) as well as third in completions and total offensive yards.
A strong group of receivers will help Hess make a run at holding every career passing record in school history. Leading the receiver corps are junior Christian Bryan (76 career receptions), senior Kevin Watts (45 career receptions), senior Jelani Berassa (41 career grabs) and sophomore Andrew Williams (27 career catches).
Berassa returns after missing last year's campaign with a knee injury. In 2011 he caught 37 passes for 552 yards and a team-best eight touchdowns. Bryan had 30 receptions last year after hauling in 46 during his freshman season. Williams came on as the year progressed and finished second on the team in receiving yards with 424. Andre Stubbs had 21 catches while Kintrell Disher added 16 a year ago.
The offensive line will be led by returning first-team all-conference performer and preseason All-American senior Chris Elkins. Elkins has started 26 straight games at guard but will start fall camp at center. The only other starter returning is senior tackle Kyle Bryant. Bryant started the final six contests in 2012. YSU allowed a school-record low eight sacks in 2012.
YSU will be looking to replace veterans D.J. Main, Lamar Mady and Mark Pratt up front. The Penguins have two seniors in that group in Fred Herdman and Andrew Sinko and junior Stephen Page. Outside of those five players, YSU will be looking at redshirts to jump in immediately. Dylan Colucci, Dana Harris, Brock Eisenhuth, Matt Bell and Christian Wilson were part of the program in 2012, but none saw action.
At the tailback spot, the Guins will be looking to replace more than 4,000 career yards on the ground with the departure of Jamaine Cook. Demond Hymes, Torrian Pace and Adaris Bellamy saw the bulk of the carries in the spring, but the three combined for 541 yards (not even half of Cook's 2012 total rushing yards) last year. The trio had 109 carries last year while Cook himself had 279 attempts. Stubbs can also contribute in the run game after picking up 120 yards on 21 carries last year.
On defense, three of the four starters in the secondary are back along with all three starters at linebacker
In the secondary, YSU returns cornerbacks Dale Peterman and Julius Childs along with safety Donald D'Alesio. Childs was third with 51 tackles while Peterman was fourth with 50. D'Alesio was sixth with 38 and has 113 tackles throughout his career. Jamarious Boatwright returns as the nickelback and will see increased action this year. The Penguins will be looking to solidify the other safety position when camp starts. Redshirts David Rivers and Jameel Smith will be counted on to step in immediately.
At linebacker, Teven Williams, Travis Williams and Dom Rich combined to start 27 games last season. Williams and Williams combined for 124 tackles last year, ranking one and two on the team (Teven first with 63 tackles and Travis second at 61). Rich and Ali Cheaib teamed up to make 54 tackles at the other linebacker spot. Dubem Nwadiogbu started the two games last year before being sidelined with a knee injury.
The defensive front will feature four new starters in 2013. Last year's starting unit combined to make 14 sacks. The defense allowed just 23 points in the final three games of the season – all victories. Look for senior Kyle Sirl – who was third on the team with three sacks last year – and a trio of sophomores in Terrell Williams, Steve Zaborsky and Emmanuel Kromah to step in. Senior D.J. Moss is a run stopper and newcomers Vince Coleman, Rickey Hagood II, Octavius Brown, Derek Rivers and Chavien Nolcox will be in the mix.
Senior punter Nick Liste has been a three-year starter and owns a career average of 40 yards per kick. Junior placekicker Joey Cejudo had a tremendous spring and will be an asset for the Guins, who attempted seven field goals last year, including four in the last three games. Connor McFadden, son of former Penguins placekicker Paul McFadden, joins the program this fall.
For just the second time in school history the Penguins will play seven regular-season home games at Stambaugh Stadium. YSU opens up with home games against Dayton and Morehead State before visiting Michigan State on Sept. 14. The Guins entertain Duquesne on Sept. 21 before starting Missouri Valley Football Conference play at Southern Illinois.