Greg Giannios, Steve Valley and Andre Coleman have played important roles on special teams.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- The 21 seniors on the Youngstown State University football team have had a big part in the Penguins' 2001 season, according to coach Jon Heacock.
"This group has gone through a difficult transition period and has handled it well," said Heacock.
Those 21 seniors will be playing their final regular season home game on Saturday, when the Penguins play host to Elon University in a 1 p.m. kickoff at Stambaugh Stadium.
The Penguins (7-2) are in a must-win situation when they go up against the 2-8 Phoenix, and nobody knows that more than the senior players.
YSU will finish the season on Nov. 24 at Marshall, a Division I-A team that is ranked No. 24 in the country.
Key roles: While all of the 21 seniors have contributed greatly to this year's season, three of them have played key roles.
Greg Giannios, Steve Valley and Andre Coleman -- all local products -- have been the backbone of the Penguins' special teams this year, as well as contributing when called upon both offensively and defensively.
Giannios, a 5-11, 205-pound fullback from Boardman, is a participant on almost all of YSU special teams, and as a fullback he's carried the ball six times for 33 yards and caught two passes.
Valley, a 6-1, 200-pound wide receiver from Hubbard, is the team's holder for kicker Jake Stewart, plays on other special teams and has caught one pass this year as a wide receiver.
Return specialist: Coleman, a 5-10, 180-pound defensive back from Warren, is the team's top kickoff return specialist, and early this season returned a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown. He has averaged 25.4 yards a return this season. As a defensive back, he's made four tackles, two of them unassisted.
All three have been willing to do anything it takes to help the football team through their four seasons with the Penguins.
"I'm so happy with my career here at YSU," said Giannios. "Special teams is something that I really take pride in doing. It takes a lot of hard work also."
Reminder: Giannios said that this year's team reminds him of the 1999 team, which also had a big senior class.
"The 1999 team had a big senior class and that group really showed me a lot and they came out big winners," Giannios added. "I think that we've got those same capabilities this year."
Valley was a walk-on when he arrived at YSU and has played many roles.
"I walked on here as a quarterback and I've had a lot of different roles over the four years, but I really enjoy my present role as holder and playing on special teams and when needed playing wide receiver," Valley said.
Nice highlight: Coleman said that although his kickoff return for a touchdown was nice, he doesn't feel it was the highlight of his career at YSU.
"That was nice and I knew sooner or later I was going to break one, but I still just like being a team player this year," Coleman said.
The three expect to have a tough afternoon this Saturday against a good Elon team.
"Elon has some good return teams and our special teams have to continue playing hard to stop them," Giannios said.
Heacock praised his seniors and feels they are ready to accept the challenge of these next two games.
"I think we're in pretty good hands if you listen to what this group has to say, and their attitudes going into the final two games," he said.