Although defense is expected to be YSU's strength, the offensive line could be one of the best in several years.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- For Youngstown State's second-year coach Jon Heacock, second-best is not good enough.
Last season the Penguins finished tied for second in the Gateway Football Conference and even though they finished with an 8-3 record were bypassed for a berth in the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs.
The Gateway Conference champion gets an automatic bid into the playoffs and despite some reports that YSU's two Division II opponents cost them a playoff spot, Heacock knows that if his team had won the Gateway it wouldn't have mattered who they played.
This year the Penguins have only one Div. II opponent, Clarion University in Thursday's season opener at Stambaugh Stadium, and after that they face which might just be the toughest schedule a YSU team has faced in recent years.
Heacock and his staff lost 21 seniors off last year's team, including four-year starting quarterback Jeff Ryan.
Obviously, quarterback was a key position in this year's preseason practice and senior Colby Street has emerged as the starter for opening night.
Street is the only YSU quarterback who has ever played in a game for the Penguins and the 6-foot-3, 238-pounder has made one start. That came two seasons ago against Illinois State, a game the Penguins won, 14-12.
Street will be backed up by junior transfer Luis Gonzalez (6-2, 208), from Miami, who transferred to the Penguins this summer from Cincinnati.
The rest of the backfield is set, led by senior P.J. Mays at tailback, who last year rushed for over 1,400 yards and scored 23 touchdowns and was the Gateway Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
The Penguins also have three other talented tailbacks in junior Josiah Doby, junior Mike Burns and junior Darius Peterson. Doby missed all of last year with injuries, while Burns and Peterson played key roles for the Penguins.
The starting fullback will be senior Chris DiMauro (5-11, 225), who takes over for three-year starter Jerry Johnson.
The offensive line could be one of the best in several years, led by All-American candidate Nick Roberts (6-0, 303) of Champion at guard. He's joined by last year's starter, senior Andy DeNiro (6-3, 285) of Mooney, a tackle.
Will Sanders (6-1, 286), a junior, will start at center. He's a transfer from West Hill Junior College. The rest of the line includes sophomore Norris Kennedy (6-2, 273) from Lake Wales, Fla., at guard and junior Josh Davis (6-5, 295), a tackle from Lisbon.
The tight ends are both returning starters and seniors: John Schumacher (6-3, 240) from Woodsfield and Dennis Dlugosz (6-3, 240) from Avon Lake.
The leading pass catcher from a year ago, senior Jerald Burley, will miss the opener with an ankle injury. Two newcomers will be in the lineup -- freshman redshirt Aaron Marshall (6-3, 208) from Detroit and sophomore Matt Rycraft (6-0, 178) from West Branch. Both Marshall and Rycraft started the preseason as quarterbacks.
The defense is expected to be the strength of the YSU attack this season, bolstered by a return of seven starters.
The Penguins have veterans at every position on the front line and at linebacker.
Seniors Matt Mechling (6-4, 240) from North Canton, Guy Mazard (6-2, 295) from Miami and Martin Stachowicz (6-2, 240) from Garfield Heights all return on the line along with senior Brandon Byers (6-2, 255) from Cincinnati.
The linebackers are led by three-year senior standout Jon Tekac (6-1, 235) from New Wilmington and senior Russell Stuvaints (6-0, 215) from McKeesport. They are joined by veteran Justin Dellarose, a 6-2, 232 pound senior from Labelle, Pa.
The secondary has only senior Anthony Barone (5-9, 185) from Cardinal Mooney returning, but the other spots have been filled by players who all played key roles a year ago.
They include sophomore Mike Bracken (6-0, 208) from Imperial, Pa., sophomore Jake Godec (6-0, 175) from Pittsburgh and junior Waymann Peters (6-0, 185) from Akron.
The kicking game returns intact, led by junior place kicker Jake Stewart (6-0, 155) from Austintown Fitch and punter Kosta Karapetsas (6-0, 195) from Warren Harding. Freshman recruit Joe Bishop (5-10, 183) from Louisville Aquinas will back up both kickers.