Penguins Open 2019 Slate Against Samford in FCS Kickoff Classic

Christian Turner (Photo By Dave Dermer)
Christian Turner (Photo By Dave Dermer)

    The Youngstown State football team opens the 2019 season with a Week Zero contest against Samford in the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff Classic at the historic Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Ala. The game is available on ESPN, WKBN 570 AM and iHeartRadio. Kickoff for the contest is set for 3 p.m. Eastern/2 p.m. Central time.
    YSU will be looking to get off to a good start following a disappointing 4-7 campaign in 2018. The Penguins lost a fair amount of veterans from that squad and will look to some talented new faces to have a turnaround season and reach the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
    Samford finished last year with a 6-5 record and has big shoes to fill at quarterback replacing 2018 FCS Walter Payton Award winning quarterback Devlin Hodges (Pittsburgh Steelers) and wide receiver Kelvin McKnight (Denver Broncos). The Bulldogs ended the year on a high note winning five of their final six contests.
    The contest is just one of two in the FCS that is set for Saturday. Colgate against Villanova kicks off the season earlier in the day. Only two FBS games are scheduled for August 24 - Miami (Fla.) vs. Florida and Arizona at Hawaii.
    This is the fifth all-time meeting between the programs with the previous four games being played at Stambaugh Stadium. The most recent contest was in the opening round of the FCS playoffs in 2016. YSU used a 38-24 win over the Bulldogs to build momentum for a memorable playoff run that saw it win road games against the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds and earn a double-overtime home win to reach the FCS National Championship Game.
    In the two-touchdown victory, the Penguins led just 10-7 at halftime. YSU added four second-half rushing touchdowns, including two by Jody Webb, to build a 38-10 lead against the Bulldogs. Samford had two touchdowns in the final seven minutes for the final margin. The Penguins had 289 yards rushing and five touchdowns as Webb led the way with 174 yards on 27 carries and two scores.
    The Penguins will be at home throughout the month of September. YSU plays host to Howard (Sept. 7), Duquesne (Sept. 14) and Robert Morris (Sept. 28). The Guins' next road contest will be its MVFC opener at UNI on Oct. 5.


Quick Notes
• YSU will be opening its 79th season of football against the Bulldogs.
• The defense has six players that have started at least 10 games in their Penguins careers. The offense has none.  CB Bryce Gibson leads the way having started the past 22 contests.
• This is just YSU's second contest in the state of Alabama. The Guins's first trip was a successful one, a 40-24 win at Jacksonville State on Dec. 3, 2016 in the second round of the FCS Playoffs.
• No matter who starts at QB for the Penguins, it will mark the fourth time in four years that a different player will start the opener at that position. Ricky Davis (2016), Hunter Wells (2017) and Montgomery VanGorder (2018) have started the past three openers.
• Senior QB Nathan Mays has started six games in his YSU career, and three have been away from Stambaugh Stadium (all MVFC games).
• The average temperature in the all-time meetings vs. Samford has been 42.8 degrees. In 2016, the game-time temperature was 40 degrees; in 2002 it was 32, in 1993 it was 58 and in 1991 it was 41.
• YSU last played a game with a kickoff temperature of 90 degrees or higher on Sept. 10, 2016 at West Virginia.

Last Meeting: YSU 38, Samford 24
    YSU won its first playoff game since 2006 beating Samford 38-24 at Stambaugh Stadium on Nov. 26, 2016. The contest was tied at seven late in the second quarter before the Penguins scored 31 of the game's next 34 points to lead 38-10 in the fourth quarter.
    The Penguins led 7-0 following a one-yard touchdown run by Shane Kuhn before the Bulldogs tied the game late in the first quarter. Zak Kennedy kicked a 25-yard field goal late in the second quarter as YSU led 10-7 at halftime.
    In the third quarter, Tevin McCaster and Martin Ruiz each scored on one-yard plunges as YSU led 24-7.
    Jody Webb added a pair of touchdown runs in the fourth (62 yards and six yards) to put YSU ahead 38-10. Samford had two touchdowns in the final seven minutes for the final margin. The Penguins had 289 yards rushing and five touchdowns as Webb led the way with 174 yards on 27 carries and two scores.

Team of Graduates
    The Penguins have an impressive amount of college graduates on this year's squad.
    QB Nathan Mays, WR Ryan Emans, OL James Wilson, DB Sam McGuigan and DB Kyle Hegedus are all in graduate courses at YSU after earning their degrees.
    Joining that group is graduate transfers Matt Jones (West Virginia) and Myles Douglas (Tennessee Tech).

Schedule Rarities in 2019
    For the first time since 2004, the Penguins will not play an FBS team during their schedule. YSU is playing an all-FCS schedule for the just the second time in school history. The lone other time the Guins had a slate full of FCS opponents was back in 1983.
    From 1989 through 2004 the Guins hosted a Division II program in all but one season (1993). From 1984 to 1988, the schedule was full of FBS opponents as the Penguins played a total of 12 games vs. upper-level foes. YSU played FBS Cincinnati in 1981 and 1982, the first two years it was an FCS program.
    Since the 2005 campaign, YSU has played Pittsburgh (five times), Ohio State (twice), West Virginia (twice), Penn State (twice), Michigan State (twice) and Illinois.
    Additionally, YSU will play seven home games for the first time since 2014.

Success In August
    The Penguins  are playing their earliest game in school history on Aug. 24. The previous earliest start to a season was Aug. 28, 2003, against Edinboro.
    All-time in August, YSU owns a 7-2 record with all seven victories coming at home.

16 Remain From 2016 Season
    A total of 16 Penguins remain on the roster from the 2016 National Runner-Up team.
    Those players are: Joe Alessi, Jermiah Braswell, Shereif Bynum, Ryan Emans, Norman Fox, Kyle Hegedus, Nathan Mays, Devon McNutt, Malachi Newell, London Pearson, Christiaan Randall-Posey, Darius Shackleford, Samuel St. Surin, Zack Torbert, James Wilson and Jacob Zinni.
    Those that played in the National Championship Game at some point were Braswell, Mays, Alessi, Randall-Posey, Torbert and Emans.

Next Tailback Up
    The Penguins have had a first-team All-MVFC selection at tailback for three straight seasons, but will be looking to a new face to carry the torch.
    Tevin McCaster was selected first-team All-MVFC in 2018 and earned the nod previously in 2017. In 2016, Martin Ruiz earned first-team honors. The last time a school had a tailback earn first-team honors in four straight years was Southern Illinois from 2000-03.
    This year's group of Joe Alessi, Christian Turner, Braxton Chapman, London Pearson and Dra Rushton will be looking to step into the role of the No. 1 tailback spot.
    In his career, Turner has 619 yards on 122 carries while Alessi has 552 yards on 43 attempts. Impressively, Alessi averages 12.8 yards per rush and has seven touchdowns. He is averaging a TD every 6.1 touches.

McFadden Times Three
    The Penguins added Kent State transfer Colten McFadden in the spring, and that last  name is very familiar to YSU Football fans.
    His father, Paul, played for the Penguins from 1980-83, while his brother Connor, was with the program from 2013-16. Both his father and brother were placekickers.
    Paul McFadden finished his career with 240 points making 52 field goals and 78 PATs. He earned notoriety for being a barefoot-style kicker. He went on to play six seasons in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons. He played six seasons amassing 520 points missing just five PAT kicks in 165 attempts and making 120 field goals.
    Connor McFadden played a big role in YSU's playoff run in 2016. In the quarterfinals against Wofford, he converted a PAT kick in overtime. He also had a PAT kick in the playoffs vs. Samford. He made a field goal against Missouri State in the regular season.

WRs Saw Playing Time
    One group that picked up a lot of experience last season was the wide receivers. Of the nine wide receivers who caught passes last year, eight return.
    Samuel St. Surin led the wideouts last year with 21 catches for 299 yards while Jermiah Braswell was the leader with 325 yards on 20 receptions.
    Natavious Payne caught 18 passes for 172 yards in his first season with the Penguins. Kendric Mallory had 12 catches, Darius Shackleford had 11 and Ryan Emans had 10. Zack Torbert and Jake Cummings also had receptions.

TEs Were Consistent
    One of the groups that saw consistent improvement during the 2018 campaign was the tight ends. YSU had three players see the bulk of the playing time last year, highlighted by 2019 sophomores Miles Joiner and Josh Burgett.
    Joiner caught 12 passes for 202 yards, but was a key weapon in the red zone, catching four touchdown passes. He started eight games.
    Burgett played in all 11 games a year ago and earned seven starts. YSU will be bolstered by the return of Kierre Hawkins, who played in just two games because a knee injury. Redshirt freshman Jake Benio played on special teams in 2019.

Returnees To Make Impact
    The Penguins lost two players last summer that were going to have large roles on the defense in 2018.
    DE Justus Reed tore his Achilles tendon in June, and during fall camp FS Kyle Hegedus tore an ACL. Both players were scheduled to start and play important snaps a year ago, but did not play a down. They are both cleared to return to the field vs. Samford.
    Another player overcoming injury to return will be TE Kierre Hawkins. Hawkins transferred to YSU from Ohio State, but played limited snaps in two games last September because of a knee injury that ultimately ended his season.
    Unfortunately a season-ending injury struck the Penguins on the first day of practice this fall. Fifth-year senior wide receiver Darius Shackleford tore the ACL in his right knee and is out for the season.

Mays Brings Experience
    One person the Penguins can rely on early in the campaign who owns some solid experience is senior QB Nathan Mays.
    Mays has started six games in his career and played in 24 contests for the Penguins. Most have been in high-pressure roles.
    As redshirt freshman in 2016, he engineered a come-from-behind fourth-quarter comeback win over UNI during the regular season when two quarterbacks were knocked out of the contest with injuries. Late in the campaign, his running style was a good change of pace in helping the Guins reach the National Championship Game.
    In 2017, he saw an increased role starting five games and playing in eight contests. He completed 75-of-113 passes for 905 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 317 yards on 77 attempts. He quarterbacked the Penguins to a 19-7 win over South Dakota State and played well in a 27-24 overtime loss to North Dakota State. Against the Bison he had 81 yards rushing on 21 carries and completed 11-of-15 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns.
    Last year, he only saw action in four games as he dealt with a circulation issue in his leg throughout the campaign. He started at NDSU and played well vs. the Bison in a 17-7 defeat. For the year he completed 22-of-44 passes for 304 yards and had 223 yards rushing on 77 attempts.   

LBs Return Key Trio
    The Penguins will need to replace four-year starter Armand Dellovade at linebacker, but they have some experience to lean on. Ray Anderson, Christiaan Randall-Posey and Cash Mitchell each saw a lot of action last year.
    Mitchell led the group with 35 tackles and started seven contests. Randall-Posey finished with 30 total tackles, including 23 solos. He started three games.
    Anderson came on strong at the end of the campaign and finished with 22 total tackles, including 14 solos. He started five games  in conference play and 20 of his 22 tackles came against MVFC foes.

Secondary Has Depth
    The Penguins return a pair of starters from last year's secondary in CB Bryce Gibson and CB DJ Smalls. The pair started all 11 games for YSU in 2018.
    Gibson was second on the team with 42 total tackles and had 31 solo stops. He had a team-high 12 pass breakups on the campaign. Gibson has started 22 straight games entering the campaign. Smalls, who is moving to the nickel spot this year, had 22 total tackles (16 solos), six pass breakups and returned an interception for a touchdown against South Dakota.
    DB Melvin Jackson played in all 11 games last year and should start at corner in the opener against Samford. Kyle Hegedus returns after missing the 2018 season with a knee injury. Hegedus had 74 total tackles, 46 solos and two fumble recoveries in 10 starts in 2017.

Gibson Leads Secondary
    Junior CB Bryce Gibson has been the leader of a secondary that looks to improve following a disappointing 2018 campaign.
    Eight different players started a game in the secondary with Gibson and DJ Smalls being the only two who started all 11 games in 2018.
    YSU's unit led the FCS in fewest passing yards allowed in 2017 at 143.7 per game. In 2018, that unit fell to 33rd allowing 195.3 yards per game.
    Gibson started all 11 games as a true freshman.

O-Line Transfers
    YSU added a pair of graduate transfers to bolster the offensive line in 2019. The Penguins picked up center Matt Jones, who was a two-year starter at West Virginia, and Myles Douglas, who started every game in 2017 at Tennessee Tech.
    Jones is a native of nearby Hubbard, Ohio, and started the final 25 games of his career for the Mountaineers. He started against the Penguins last September in Morgantown.
    Additionally, YSU added junior college transfers Jordan Velez and Jadan Starks. Velez was with the program in the spring and should have a chance to start at guard vs. Samford.

Becker, Zinni To Anchor Line
    The most veteran YSU players on the offensive line are sophomore LT Dan Becker and senior RG Jacob Zinni.
    Becker started the first nine games at left tackle in 2018 and played in all 11 contests. Zinni started the final two games of the year at guard. In 2017, Zinni started the first five games at right guard.
    The only other lineman to start a game at YSU who returns from last year is Devon Robinson. Robinson made a pair of starts at right tackle in 2018.
    The Penguins added West Virginia transfer Matt Jones in the offseason. Jones started every game in the 2017 and 2018 seasons for the Mountaineers.

D-Line Led By Duo
    The defensive line returns a pair of starters in DT Wes Thompson and DE Shereif Bynum. Both players had the best years of their careers a year ago.
    Bynum recorded 37 total tackles, 23 solos, while leading the team with 11.5 TFLs and ranking second with four sacks. He also had 11 quarterback hurries. Thompson had 28 tackles, including a pair of sacks.
    In a pass-rushing specialist role, senior DE Ma'lik Richmond had 24 total tackles, including an impressive 20 solo stops. Richmond had four TFLs, including three sacks.
    Also returning is DE Justus Reed who missed last year with an injury. In 2017, Reed had 15 totals tackles, including nine solos. He tied for the team lead with five sacks and was second with 5.5 TFLs. He also had seven QB hurries.

Bynum Had Big Season
    Senior DE Shereif Bynum had a breakout year in his first season as a starter in 2018.
    Bynum had 37 total tackles, 23 of which were solo stops. He led the team with 11.5 TFLs and ranked second with four sacks. He was named Honorable-Mention All-MVFC in 2018 and is a preseason honorable-mention all-league honoree.
    In three contests last season he had five tackles - West Virginia, Western Illinois and Southern Illinois. Against the Salukis he had a pair of sacks. He also had sacks against Butler and Valparaiso.
    Entering the 2018 season, he had four total tackles in his career. In nine of the 11 games a year ago, he had at least three tackles.

Gonya Made Strong Debut
    The Penguins made a switch at placekicker against South Dakota with freshman Grant Gonya getting the call last year.
    After a tough start missing two PAT kicks, which came against a wind gusting up to 30 mph, Gonya settled down to make his third and fourth attempts.
    In the second quarter, he calmly kicked a 27-yard field goal to put the Penguins ahead of the Coyotes, 22-0. Against Indiana State he had two PATs and kicked a 33-yard field goal. Officially, he redshirted and has four years of eligibility remaining.
    YSU will be replacing four-year starter Zak Kennedy in 2019.

Young Guins Saw Time
    YSU played nine true freshmen last season and using the new redshirt rule, all but one - Natavious Payne - will have four years of eligibility remaining.
    True freshmen who played last year: WR Payne, PK Grant Gonya, LB Myles McHaney, DB Paul French, DB Alec Burzynski, LB Griffin Hoak, DT DeMarko Craig, DT Dontae Cilenti and TE Jake Benio.

Spread the Ball Around
    The Penguins had an impressive 16 different players catch passes last year.
    Overall, nine wide receivers, four tight ends and three tailbacks caught passes from QBs Montgomery VanGorder and Nathan Mays.
    Ten different players had a touchdown reception while Miles Joiner led the team with four.
    An impressive 12 players caught passes in the game at Western Illinois on Sept. 29 as the Penguins set a school record for most passing yards in a game.

Pick Six For Smalls
    With lottery fever gripping the U.S. last fall, DJ Smalls joined in the fun returning an interception 65 yards for a touchdown against South Dakota. After the game, his grandmother thought his "pick six" had something to do with the lottery numbers for the evening. In some ways she was right, but the Penguins were happy to get an interception return to be a winner.
Starting Experience
    Most of the starting experience for the Penguins came during the 2018 campaign. A total of 23 players on the roster have a career start and four have started just once.
    Overall, 118 of 242 possible starts from last year are by players on this year's roster.

Touchdowns By Current Guins
    The Penguins have 12 players on their roster who have combined for a total of 34 touchdowns. TB Joe Alessi has the most rushing touchdowns with seven while Jermiah Braswell and Miles Joiner each lead the team with four receiving TDs.

Numbers of Note
• Turnover Margin: Since 1996, the Penguins are 137-37 when they win or tie in the turnover margin. When committing more turnovers, YSU is just 27-72.
Since 1990 YSU is:
• 166-21-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points in a game.
• 141-18 when rushing for 200-plus yards.
• 162-28 when scoring 28-or-more points.
• 87-10-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing in a game.
• 192-16 when leading entering the fourth.
• 89-3-2 when holding opponents to 10 points-or-less in a game.

Up Next:
    YSU returns to action at Stambaugh Stadium on Sept. 7 against Howard. The first-ever meeting with the Bison is the first of three home games in the month of September.
    The Penguins take on Duquesne on Sept. 14 and Robert Morris on Sept. 28.