YSU Opens Spring Drills on Monday

Sherief Bynum
Sherief Bynum

The Youngstown State football team begins spring practice on Monday afternoon. YSU will workout the next two weeks before taking a week off for Spring Break. The Guins will conclude workouts with two weeks of practices following the break. YSU is scheduled to complete spring workouts on March 30.

Offense

Some new faces will get the opportunity to emerage this spring on offense. YSU lost key starters TB Tevin McCaster, QB Montgomery VanGorder, OG Gavin Wiggins, C Vitas Hrynkiewicz and OG Connor Sharp from last year's lineup. Their departures will give players an opportunity at quarterback, tailback and on the offensive line during spring drills. The Penguins return all of their tight ends from a year ago and all but one wide receiver.

Quarterback

Nathan Mays returns as a fifth-year senior and has the bulk of the experience for the position. Mays started at North Dakota State as a junior and played in four games. He completed 26-of-44 passes for 304 yards and three scores while rushing for 223 yards on 47 carries. He was a key contributor as a sophomore in 2017 when he played in eight games and started five contests. He completed 75-of-113 passes for 905 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 317 yards on 77 carries.

Sophomore Joe Craycraft saw action late in the contest against Valparaiso while Conor Collins is in his third year with the program as well. True freshman Mark Waid joined the program in January after leading Girard High School to the State Championship Game in December. Mitch Davidson will be partcipating in his first spring.

Tailback

Junior Christian Turner and senior Joe Alessi have a good amount of experience as YSU looks to replace McCaster's back-to-back 1,000-yard efforts. Turner had 39 carries for 179 yards as a sophomore, but was a key in the passing game leading the team with 24 receptions for 196 yards. Turner had a breakout freshman season rushing for 440 yards on 83 carries and hauling in 20 passes for 272 yards. Alessi has always been a speed demon, but has been limited at times because of injuries. As a junior, he had 226 yards on 21 carries and scored four touchdowns. He only had 11 carries for 103 yards in 2018.

Others to look for this spring are Braxton Chapman, London Pearson and redshirt freshman Dra Rushton. Chapman and Pearson each saw limited playing time in 2018.

Tight End

The tight end position was young in 2018, but that youth should pay dividends in 2019. Miles Joiner and Josh Burgett improved throughout the season in their first year as full-time players. Joiner caught 12 passes for 202 yards and a team-leading four touchdowns. Burgett was a key factor in the Penguins' run game serving as a blocker. Jake Benio saw time on special teams and Kierre Hawkins had his season cut short with ACL injury at Western Illinois.

Offensive Line

YSU will be looking to replace three multi-year starters and a one-year starting tackle on the line. Offensive tackle Dan Becker, offensive guard Jacob Zinni and offensive tackle Devon Robinson are the only three Penguins with a career start under their belts. Becker started nine times, Zinni started five times in 2017 and twice in 2018 while Robinson started twice last fall.

Getting the chance to step in this spring on the line are Henry Yoboue, Norman Fox, Aaron Ervin, Brandon Finamore, Zachary Hauschild, Mike McAllister, James Wilson, Casey Baker and Jordan Velez.

Wide Receiver

The depth at wide receiver will be something YSU can rely on this spring and fall. Last year, a total of nine different receivers started at least one game. YSU returns Samuel St. Surin, Darius Shackleford, Kendric Mallory, Jake Coates, Jermiah Braswell, Jake Cummings, Zack Torbert, Natavious Payne and Ryan Emans

St. Surin led all the wide outs with 21 receptions for 299 yards while Braswell had 20 catches for 325 yards. True freshman Natavious Payne made an instant impact with 18 catches for 172 yards. Mallory added 12 catches for 169 yards, Shackleford had 11 grabs for 213 yards, Emans had 10 for 124 yards and Torbert added six receptions.

Defense

YSU's defense also lost some talented players in 2018 seniors LB Armand Dellovade, DT Savon Smith, DE Johnson Louigene and FS Chrispin Lee. However, YSU returns full-season starters DE Shereif Bynum, DT Wesley Thompson, CB D.J. Smalls and CB Bryce Gibson.

Defensive Line

On the front line, Bynum and Thompson will lead the Penguins. Bynum started all 11 games while Thompson started 10 contests. Bynum led the Penguins with 11.5 tackles for loss while ranking second in sacks. 

The defensive line will be looking to find two new starters this spring. Returning from last year are defensive ends Antoine Cook, Ma'lik Richmond and James Jackson. Tyler Sims redshirted a year ago and Justus Reed looks to return to form following an Achilles injury that sidelined him for the 2018 campaign. On the interior, redshirts DeMarko Craig Jr., Vinny Gentile, Dontae Cilenti and Derek Hite along with Fred Hicks, Donovan Turney, Steven Pappadakes and Ronald Williams

Linebackers

Replacing Dellovade will be the biggest change for the 2019 defense. Dellovade started at middle linebacker for all but two games the past four seasons. Good thing for YSU is that there is some solid depth at the position this spring. 

Ray Anderson stepped in during the second half of the season as a redshirt freshman and started five contests. Seniors Cash Mitchell and Christiaan Randall-Posey have the bulk of the experience of the group. Mitchell started seven times in 2018 registering 35 tackles. Randall-Posey started three contests finishing with 30 stops. Junior Terray Bryant rotated between the second and linebacker in 2018 and should primarily play linebacker in 2019. Griffin Hoak and Myles McHaney redshirted in 2018 while Jaylen Hewlett and Brandon Williams will get a chance this spring.

Secondary

YSU returns its starting corners in Smalls and Gibson. The pair started all 11 games a year ago for YSU. The Penguins will need to replace Lee at free safety and solidify a starter at strong safety and at nickel.

Devanere Crenshaw started five of the eight conference games at strong safety last fall. Kyle Hegedus, who missed the 2018 campaign with a knee injury, was YSU's primary strong safety in 2017. Melvin Jackson saw a fair amount of time as a reserve whether it was at nickel or corner. Sam McGuigan has been a mainstay with the program the past two years as a reserve. YSU added Jakkar Jackson during the season last September and added safety Sam Warren in January. Jaelin Madison, Vinny Fiorenza, LaQuan White and John Harper redshirted last year. Patrick Minenok sat out after transferring from Slippery Rock. 

Special Teams

The Penguins special teams units will undergo a complete overhaul. Gone are four-year placekicker Zak Kennedy, four-year long snapper Steven Wethli and three-year starting punter Mark Schuler.

YSU has a talented, but untested group that can step in this season. PK Grant Gonya made a pair of field goals during the season before redshirting. In January, YSU added Kent State transfer Colten McFadden. McFadden was a kickoff specialist at Kent State in 2018 but transferred to YSU mid semester. Punter Nick DeSalvo redshirted in 2018.