Since transferring from Cincinnati, the junior tailback has been YSU's biggest running threat.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- P.J. Mays wore an East High shirt and a smile.
"This place has showed me so much love that I'm just very thankful to be back here," said Mays, who transferred from the University of Cincinnati to Youngstown State prior to last season.
Mays repaid his hometown Thursday in the form of a career-high game at Stambaugh Stadium.
By carrying 21 times for 226 yards and a touchdown in Youngstown State's 38-7 season-opening victory over Lock Haven, the 5-foot, 9-inch, 210-pound junior tailback proved that he has the talent to be the Penguins' main man in 2001.
Mays was in such a groove that he didn't realize what he had accomplished. "I didn't even know how many yards I had," he said.
No such luck: Lock Haven coach Mark Luther said he had read an article detailing how Mays was nursing an injured hamstring.
"We were hoping he wouldn't play tonight," Luther laughed. "We saw him dress, and it didn't seem like he was going real hard in pregame. We thought maybe ..."
Two seasons ago, Mays was a freshman at Cincinnati. He transferred to Youngstown State and rushed for a team-high 781 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2000.
That experience has made him more comfortable with the offense.
"I know it inside and out now," Mays said. "It's better for the offensive line because I'm where I'm supposed to be now. I pretty much know as much as [quarterback] Jeff [Ryan] knows [about the offense]."
Thursday's performance, albeit against Division II Lock Haven, showed that Mays may be on his way to surpassing his 2000 total, which included a 127-yard game against Cal-Poly and a 117-yard game against Western Illinois.
"The offensive line was doing a great job tonight," Mays said. "Things were coming together. There were a couple of times when I should have broke for more [yardage]; I have to practice my open-field running."
Bright spot: Still, Mays was one of the few positives for Youngstown State in the first half. While the Penguins managed just one touchdown and were plagued by three turnovers, Mays was doing his damage on the ground, totaling 165 yards.
"I always try to give the offense a lift when I'm out there," Mays said. "I try to do something big every time I get the ball. You just have to keep on plugging -- try to get some extra yards or that touchdown.
"The main thing we're trying to do is get first downs and keep the ball moving."
If coach Jon Heacock needs a first down, he should look to Mays, whose first-game rushing statistics include a 10.8 yards-per-carry average.
Mays' biggest run of the game came at the outset of the third quarter when he broke away for a 32-yard touchdown.
"His strength and balance," Luther admired of Mays. "He's not a real tall individual, but he's so stocky and strong, and he's very quick. "They just kept coming at us."