Penguins Kickoff 2014 Slate With Matchup at Illinois

YSU vs. Illinois
YSU vs. Illinois
Youngstown State at Illinois
Date | Time

Saturday, August 30 | Noon Eastern/11 a.m. Central

Location Memorial Stadium | Champaign, Illinois
Radio 570 WKBN | iHeartRadio
Video Big Ten Network | GameFinder |
@YSUSports | @YoungstownStFB | @JayMe_Hall | @YSUSID
Hashtags #GoGuins | #YSUFootball
Mobile YSU Front Row App
YSU Info Game Notes | Media Guide | 2013 Final Stats
MVFC Info Weekly Notes | Website | Scoreboard


The 21st-ranked Youngstown State football team plays its season opener on Saturday at Illinois. Kickoff against the Fighting Illini is set for Noon Eastern time/11 a.m. Central time. The game is available on WKBN 570 AM, iHeartRadio and is on the Big Ten Network.

YSU, which posted an 8-4 mark last year, will be opening its 74th season this weekend. The Penguins own an all-time mark of 41-30-2 in season-opening games since the program originated in 1938.

Despite losing a four-year starting quarterback, the Penguins are ranked higher entering the 2014 slate than last season (24th) and were picked to finish fourth in the Missouri Valley Football Conference after being tabbed fifth a year ago. The Guins posted a 5-3 conference mark and tied for second with three other teams in the MVFC standingsin 2013.

Junior QB Dante Nania will make his first start in the season opener. Nania was the primary backup to four-year starter Kurt Hess the past two years and now gets his chance as the starter. He has a strong backfield to rely on, led by second-team All-MVFC pick Martin Ruiz. Ruiz was named the Valley Football Newcomer and Freshman of the Year last season for his efforts. A stable of backs featuring Ruiz, Jody Webb, Demond Hymes and Ryan Moore could all see action. The receiving corps is long on experience with seniors Christian Bryan and Jelani Berassa as well as juniors Andrew Williams, Andre Stubbs and Michael Wheary.

On defense, three of four starters from last year's secondary and three of four starters from the defensive line return. In the secondary, FS Donald D'Alesio, SS Jameel Smith and CB Julius Childs are back while up front, Emmanuel Kromah, Steve Zaborsky and Terrell Williams return.

Illinois, which was 4-8 last year, defeated MVFC member Southern Illinois in its opener last season. YSU Head Coach Eric Wolford was an assistant for the Illini in 2007 and 2008 under Ron Zook.

The Penguins start a three-game homestand on Sept. 6 when they entertain Duquesne of the Northeast Conference at Stambaugh Stadium.

Preseason Notes
• The Penguins open the season in the state of Illinois for the first time since 1979 when they played at Illinois State to start the year.
• Since 2007, YSU has played its season-opening game on the road six times in seven years. The Guins played Dayton at home to open the 2013 slate.
• After posting wins at Pittsburgh (2012) and over Dayton (2013), YSU has won its last two season openers.
• Returning starters on offense include TB Martin Ruiz, OG Brock Eisenhuth, TE Nate Adams, WR Christian Bryan, WR Andre Stubbs and WR Andrew Williams.
• Returning starters on defense include FS Donald D'Alesio, SS Jameel Smith, CB Julius Childs, LB Travis Williams, DT Emmanuel Kromah, DT Steve Zaborsky and DE Terrell Williams.
• YSU also returns PK Joey Cejudo, LS Nate Gibbs and holder Dante Nania.
• There will be some inexperience at places as the roster features only one collegiate touchdown pass (Tanner Garry), and no one on the current roster has attempted a punt.
• YSU is playing 12 regular-season games for the second consecutive year. Like 2013, the Guins will be at home for seven contests, including three straight after the Illinois game.
• Head Coach Eric Wolford and Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Line Coach Tom Sims were members of the Illinois coaching staff in 2007 and 2008 for then-coach Ron Zook. Sims was also on the staff in 2006. They were both part of the program's 2008 Rose Bowl squad that posted a 9-4 mark. Assistant coach Carmen Bricillo was at Illinois in 2009.

Big Ten Foes
    The Penguins are playing their fourth Big Ten foe since a 2006 visit to Penn State. The Guins played the Nittany Lions twice (2006, 2010), Ohio State twice (2007, 2008) and Michigan State twice (2011, 2013). The Penguins have three games at Pittsburgh (2005, 2009 and 2012) to their big-school foe credit. Highlighting the series against the Panthers was a 31-17 win at Heinz Field in 2012.

Ruiz Has Strong Start
    Sophomore TB Martin Ruiz is coming off the best season by a freshman running back in school history. Ruiz, who was named the Missouri Valley Football Conference Newcomer and Freshman of the Year, set school marks for attempts (192), yards (1,094) and touchdowns by a freshman in 2013.
    Ruiz started seven of the eight MVFC games and rushed for 831 yards on 147 attempts while scoring eight touchdowns in league play. As a frosh, he was a second-team all-league honoree.

New QB At the Helm
    For the first time since November 2009, a quarterback other than Kurt Hess will start for the Penguins. Hess set numerous school records in his career, and in his four campaigns, completed 706-of-1,135 passes for 8,926 yards and 75 touchdowns.
    With Hess getting 94.7 of the pass attempts (and having 1,345 total-offensive plays) since September 2010, it will seem odd not to see him at quarterback.
    Other than Hess in the past four seasons, nine players have attempted a pass at various times. The nine passers completed 26-of-58 attempts (44.8 percent) for 388 yards and three touchdowns.
    Of the 78 touchdown passes thrown the past four years, 75 are by Hess, one was by Marc Kanetsky (2011), one came from TB Jamaine Cook (2012) and the other was by current fourth-string QB Tanner Garry (2013).

Nania Gets The Call
    Fourth-year junior QB Dante Nania will make his first start at the position when the Guins take on Illinois.
    Last season, Nania completed 11-of-20 passes for 180 yards while rushing for 35 yards on 11 carries in limited action. He has played a key role as the holder on placement kicks the past two years, but he will have his duties increased immensely when he takes over as quarterback.
    Behind Nania is true freshman Hunter Wells, redshirt freshman Ricky Davis and sophomore Tanner Garry. Garry played in three games a year ago while Wells and Davis are yet to make their collegiate debuts. The last true freshmen quarterbacks to play were Dailyn Campbell and Marc Kanetsky in 2008.

First Time QB Starters
    Dante Nania will be just the 14th quarterback to start for the Penguins since five games into the 1998 season when Jeff Ryan took over as the starter. That's a pretty good run considering that is a span of nearly 16 seasons. In 1998, YSU started three different QBs in the first five games before Ryan started all but one game the next three-plus years.
    Former Penguin Kurt Hess started 45 straight games from 2010-13 while Tom Zetts started every game from 2005-08.
    Since 1998, YSU has had multiple first-time starters in 2009, 2008, 2003 and 2002. None of the QBs on the roster have started for the Guins.
    The Guins are 7-6 in games in which a quarterback makes his first start since Ryan's appearance against Southern Illinois in 1998. At the FCS level (since 1981), the Penguins are 15-11 when a quarterback starts for the first time in his career.

Season Openers
    The Penguins are 41-30-2 all-time in season openers after winning their previous two openers. Last season, the Guins grinded out a 28-10 win over Dayton. In 2012, the campaign began with a bang with an impressive 31-17 win at Pittsburgh.

August Success
    The Penguins are 8-1 all-time in the month of August, with all eight wins coming at Stambaugh Stadium.
    The lone road contest played in August was at Ohio State to begin the 2008 campaign. In their eight wins, the Guins have outscored the opposition 264-82. The lone loss on the August  calendar was to the Buckeyes.

Six Captains in 2014
    The Penguins will have six seniors serve as team captains during the season. Sixth-year senior WR Jelani Berassa, fifth-year seniors FS Donald D'Alesio and TE Nate Adams, fourth-year senior WR Christian Bryan, third-year senior CB Julius Childs and second-year senior DT Octatvius Brown were selected by their teammates to assume that role this year.

Winning Increases
    For the third straight year the Guins won more games than the previous season. After three wins in 2010, the Penguins won six in 2011. In 2012 the Guins won seven contests for an improvement over the 2011 season. Last year, YSU posted its first eight-win season since 2006.

Red-Zone Success
    YSU has converted at a high success rate in the red zone under Head Coach Eric Wolford.
    Last year, YSU was 43-of-47 (91.5 percent) in its red-zone opportunities. It marked the second season in his four-year tenure that the Guins converted more than 90 percent of their red-zone opportunities. Away from home, the Guins were a perfect 16-of-16 in the red zone. YSU scored touchdowns on 38 of those red-zone visits.
    In 45 games under Coach Wolford, the Penguins are 161-for-182 (88.5 percent) inside the red zone. YSU has scored 138 touchdowns (94 rushing and 44 passing) while making 23-of-24 field-goal attempts. Of the nine turnovers committed, eight have been interceptions.
    The Penguins were 35-of-43 inside the red-zone in 2012 (81.7 percent). YSU went 42-of-47 in 2011 (89.4 percent) and in 2010, the Guins converted 41-of-45 chances (91.1 percent).
    Overall, the program has a red-zone score in 52 consecutive games. Under Wolford they have seven red-zone scores in three games.

Eight-Win Seasons
    Last year, the Penguins won eight games or more for the 18th time in school history.
    The eight wins in 2013 were the most since 11 in the playoff campaign of 2006.

Receivers Grow Up
    The group of Jelani Berassa, Christian Bryan, Andrew Williams, Andre Stubbs have combined for 253 receptions in their YSU careers.
    Berassa is in his sixth year with the program while Bryan, Williams and Stubbs all came in together as part of the 2011 recruiting class.
    Bryan never redshirted and has caught 102 passes in a solid career. He ranks tied for 10th in school history in career receptions. Williams has caught 53 passes and Stubbs has 51 as injuries forced redshirt campaigns for both players in their Penguin careers.
    Berassa missed the 2010 and 2012 seasons with knee injuries. When healthy in 2011, he had 37 of his 47 career catches and eight of his nine career TD hauls.
    Fifth-year tight end Nate Adams has 23 catches, including five touchdowns, as well.

New Look Offensive Line
    YSU's opening game offensive line will feature two first-time starters in Dylan Colucci and Justin Spencer. Last year, left tackle Trevor Strickland started five contests on the line while right guard Brock Eisenhuth started nine times. Eisenhuth started the first eight games as the Penguins went 7-1 before being sidelined with an injury. He returned to start the finale against South Dakota State.
    Senior C Stephen Page, the lone senior on the unit, started at South Dakota State in 2012 and saw time near the end of the season when Mark Pratt was hampered by an injury. Last year, Chris Elkins started all 12 games at center and was a second-team All-American and first-team all-league pick.
    A young group of reserves OT Cameron Fraser (redshirt transfer), OG/C Matt Bell (sophomore), C Matt Parente (redshirt), OT Christian Wilson (sophomore) and OG Cole Newsome (redshirt) are also in the mix.

Experienced Front Line
    Three of the four returning starters on the defensive line return from 2013. Junior DT Emmanuel Kromah and junior DE Terrell Williams each started all 12 games last season. Junior DT Steve Zabrosky started eight games a year ago.
    Kromah had 31 tackles, including four sacks last season, Williams had 30 tackles and Zaborsky was credited with 12 stops. Each player has played more than 20 games in their YSU careers.
    Additionally sophomore DE Derek Rivers had 13 stops, but three were for sacks.

2,000/1,000 Yard Seasons
    The Penguins have had a quarterback pass for more than 2,000 yards in each of the last five seasons. Prior to the 2009 slate, only eight times had a YSU quarterback eclipsed the 2,00-yard mark and five of those came in playoff seasons.
    Conversely, the Guins have had a running back rush for more than 1,000 yards in each of the last four seasons. Jamaine Cook went over 1,000 yards in 2010, 2011 and 2012 while Martin Ruiz had 1,000-plus in 2013.
    Only eight times have the Penguins had a QB throw for more than 2,000 yards and a player rush for over 1,000 in a campaign. Until 2010, the four previous occurrences (1992, 1994, 1999 and 2006) all came in the postseason.

Stubbs Return Accolades
    Junior KR/WR Andre Stubbs quietly had one of the best kickoff-return seasons in school history in 2013. At the end of the season, Stubbs was recognized as a first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection.
    Last year, he averaged 26.9 yards per return on 25 attempts. That average ranked him first in the MVFC and 16th at the FCS level. His yards-per-return was the third-best average by a player in school history and most since 1994.
    His 672 return yards tied him for second with Robert Thompson (1983) in school history.

Bryan Eclipses 100
    Senior WR Christian Bryan has 102 career receptions in 34 career games played. That breaks down to an average of three receptions per game throughout his career.
    Bryan is just one of 14 players in school history to eclipse the 100-reception mark in a career.
    He is tied for 10th in school history with Dave DelSignore (1966-69) with his 102 grabs.
    Bryan is also tied for 11th in school history for career touchdown receptions with his 11 TDs. He is one of 13 players in YSU history with 11-or-more TD grabs in a career. He's tied with Ray Ellington and Kyle Smith with 11 career touchdown receptions.

Cejudo Pulls Double Duty
    With PK Joey Cejudo set to add punter duties to his kicking resume in 2014, he will be one of just three Penguins to handle both punting and kicking in the same year since 1970.
    The last Penguin to handle both roles as punter and placekicker was Jeff Wilkins in 1992-93. Wilkins was the placekicker in each season throughout his YSU career. Wilkins shared punting duties in 1992 before assuming both placekicker and punting roles in 1993. He turned out to be pretty good playing 14 years in the NFL and winning a Super Bowl title with the St. Louis Rams.
    The only other kicker since 1970 to handle both chores was Chuck Haynali, who did both in three straight seasons - 1976, 1977 and 1978.

Ruiz Ranked Highly
    Sophomore TB Martin Ruiz ranked second among FCS freshmen last year in rushing yards per game, averaging 91.2 yards a contest. Ruiz trailed only North Carolina A&T's Tarik Cohn, who ran for 104.4 yards a contest. Overall he ranked 39th in the nation.
    Ruiz's 15 touchdowns tied for the most by a freshman in the nation with Howard's Anthony Philaw. Ruiz tied for 20th in the FCS in points scored per game with 8.5 (102 points in 12 games).
    He is just the fourth MVFC freshman to rush for more than 1,000 yards in his first year and the first since 1993. His 1,094 yards were the second most by a freshman in a season in conference history.

Numbers Under Wolf
    After 45 games, Head Coach Eric Wolford is now 24-21. YSU has won 19 of its last 29 games under Wolford since the mid-point of the 2011 season. A couple of good notes have come from his first 45 games regarding wins and losses. Both losses when allowing 27 or fewer points have come at UNI (21-17 in 2011 and 22-20).
• YSU is 12-0 when allowing 20 points or fewer
• YSU is 21-2 when allowing 27 points or fewer
• YSU is 22-3 when allowing 33 points or fewer

Tressel Back on Campus
    James P. Tressel, the President of Youngstown State, was the Penguins' head football coach from 1986-2000. In his YSU career, he was 135-57-2 with seven seasons of 11 wins or more. He led the Guins to 10 postseason appearances and won national championships in 1991, 1993, 1994 and 1997. YSU also advanced to the NCAA title game in 1992 and 1999.

President Debut
    For the second straight year, the Penguins take the field under new university leadership as former football coach/athletic director Jim Tressel assumes the role of YSU president.
    Saturday's game at Illinois will mark the eighth time that a new president has taken office since the Penguins have played football.
    So far in the new presidents' first game, YSU is 5-2 with wins in 1966, 1984, 1992, 2000 and last season. The defeats came in 1973 and 2010 - to Dayton and Penn State.

30-20 Campaign Rare
    The Penguins registered 31 rushing and 23 passing TDs a year ago. It was just the third time in school history the Penguins had a 30-20 season. The others were in 1999 (32 rush, 21 pass) and 1979 (34 rush, 21 pass). The 31 rushing scores were the most since 2006.
    It marked just the fifth time in school history the Guins had 20-or-more TD passes in a campaign. The others were 2011 (27), 1994 (22), 1999 (21) and 1979 (21).
    In 2013, YSU had 26 scores of 20-yards or more. The Guins had 13 10-play marches, four one-play scores and 17 four-or-fewer play drives.

Yardage Balance
    Last season, the Penguins threw for 2,457 yards and rushed for 2,349 yards, again showing solid balance in total offensive yardage.
  YSU ran the ball 448 times while attempting 296 passes in those contests. The Guins averaged 38.5 rushing attempts per game and 25.2 passes a contest.

Three is Still Important
    Under Coach Eric Wolford, YSU is a combined 27-of-34 on field-goal attempts (79.4 percent).
    PK Joey Cejudo made six-of-eight attempts last season, including a long of 40 yards against Duquesne.
    In 2012, PK David Brown converted six-of-seven attempts, including a long of 47 yards against Indiana State. In 2011, the Penguins did not make a field goal in the first eight games before converting a 28-yard kick at UNI and two (33 and 30) at North Dakota State.
    YSU was 12-of-14 in 2010, all of which came by the foot of Stephen Blose.

>400 Yards/27 Points
    The Penguins have had more than 400 yards of total offense in 23 games under Head Coach Eric Wolford. YSU eclipsed the mark in five games in 2013. In his 45 contests, YSU has had more than 300 yards in 38 of them. Additionally, the Guins have scored 27-or-more points in 31 of Wolford's 45 games at the helm.

Seven with Two-Plus TDs
    The Penguins had seven players who caught at least two touchdowns in 2013.
    Leading the way was Andre Stubbs, who caught five touchdown passes. Nate Adams was second on the team with four while Marcel Caver had three. Christian Bryan, Martin Ruiz, Andrew Williams and Carson Sharbaugh each had a pair of TD hauls.
    It marked the first time in school history the Guins had seven players catch at least two touchdown passes in a season. In 1990, YSU had six players accomplish the feat.

Four-TD Passing Games
    Since Nov. 1, 2008, quarterbacks Kurt Hess (six) and Brandon Summers (two) combined to throw at least four touchdowns in a game eight times in a span of 60 games.
    In school history before November 2008, a group of six quarterbacks combined for eight four-passing touchdown games. YSU had played 702 games up to that point in school history.

50-Plus Point Games
    The Penguins tied a school record with three 50-plus point games last season. YSU scored 67 vs. Morehead State and 59 twice (Illinois State and Duquesne).
    The only other campaign the Guins scored 50-or-more points three times during a season was in 1994. YSU had 63 in the playoffs against Alcorn State and had two 52-point contests (Buffalo and Slippery Rock).
    Since Coach Eric Wolford took over, YSU has scored more than 50 points seven times.

Hess Set Standards
    Former QB Kurt Hess left his mark on the program setting numerous school career marks following his four-year career.
    He set school marks with 706 completions, 1,135 attempts, 8,926 yards, 75 touchdown passes, 24 200-yard passing games, 198.4 passing yards per game, a passer rating of 144.96 and TDs responsible for with 87.

Four-Takeaway Win Streak
    YSU has won 19 straight games when it forces at least four turnovers. Last year the Guins were 1-0 when that occurred.
    Since 2006, the Guins are 21-1 when they have at least four takeaways in a game. The last loss was against UNI in 2006.

Classroom Excellence
    Since Head Coach Eric Wolford took over, he has also had an impact on the Penguins' production in the classroom. In eight of the nine spring/fall semesters he has been head coach, the Guins have maintained a 2.70 cumulative GPA.
    The Guins had 43 selections to the Missouri Valley Football Conference honor roll. Senior TE Nate Adams was a recipient of the Presidents Academic Award as well.
    This past summer, YSU was the recipient of the FCS Athletics Directors Association APR award for having the most improved APR score in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2012-13.

Three Graduates on Roster
    Three members of the program have already earned their bachelor's degrees from Youngstown State. YSU's trio of graduates are Jelani Berassa, Nate Adams and Donald D'Alesio.
    Berassa and Adams both graduated following the fall semester while D'Alesio earned his diploma following the spring semester.

Three Over 100 Tackles
    Senior FS Donald D'Alesio leads the program with 183 career tackles, including 102 solo stops. Senior LB Travis Williams has 170 career tackles, 99 of which are solos. Senior CB Julius Childs has 121 tackles, 83 of which are solos.

TDs Against the BCS
    In the first five contests against a BCS team (2005-09) in school history the Penguins scored zero touchdowns.
    In the past four games, the Guins have scored eight - all under Head Coach Eric Wolford. Of the eight scores, six have been passes and two have come via the rush.
    The rushing scores came by members of the current team - Andre Stubbs at Pittsburgh (2012) and Martin Ruiz at Michigan State (2013).

12-Game Regular Season
    The Penguins are playing 12 regular-season games for just the fourth time in school history. The other times were last year, 2008 and 2003. The Guins posted an 8-4 mark a year ago, were 4-8 in 2008 and went 5-7 in 2003.
    Last year the Guins picked up an impressive eight wins against Division I programs. In 2003, two victories came against non-Division I foes.

Strong Florida Influence
    This season, the Penguins have an impressive 19 players from the state of Florida. Of the 19, 18 have been recruited by Coach Eric Wolford and his current staff, which includes Florida natives Glenn Davis and Eric Gallon. Wolford also coached at USF.

Williams Times Six
    The Penguins have six players on the roster with the last name Williams. On offense, YSU has Andrew (WR) and Dwayne (OL), while the defense is home to Desmond (DE), Milton (DT), Travis (LB) and Terrell (DE).

Providing Protection
    Under Coach Eric Wolford, YSU has allowed just 50 sacks in 45 games. Former quarterback Kurt Hess started all of those contests.
    The YSU offensive line has surrendered just 34 sacks in the last 35 games as well. Only 11 times under Wolford and assistant coach Carmen Bricillo have the Guins allowed more than one sack, and four of those came in 2010.

Numbers of Note
• Turnover Margin: Since 1996, the Penguins are 114-26 when they win or tie in the turnover margin. When committing more turnovers, YSU is just 17-54.
Since 1990 YSU is:
• 142-18-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points in a game.
• 116-12 when rushing for 200-plus yards.
• 137-22 when scoring 28-or-more points.
• 73-8-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing in a game.
• 166-12 when leading entering the fourth.
• 74-3-2 when holding opponents to 10 points-or-less in a game.
More recently:
• YSU has scored points in 60 consecutive games.
• YSU has scored in double figures in 18 straight contests.
• The Penguins have won 14 straight contests when rushing the ball at least 43 times and are 16-1 since 2011.
• The Guins last played an overtime game on Sept. 11, 2004 against Florida International. YSU has not played an OT contest in a span of 113 games dating back to that contest.

Up Next: Duquesne
    YSU plays its home opener on Saturday, Sept. 6, when it entertains Duquesne. Kickoff for the contest at Stambaugh Stadium is set for 4 p.m.
    It marks the second straight year the Guins have played the Dukes. YSU defeated Duquesne 59-17 last season at Stambaugh Stadium in the first-ever meeting between the programs.