The senior thinks the Penguins will prove their doubters wrong.
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- YSU senior Josh Cayson had an extensive summer training program.
Step One: Eat.
Step Two: Lift.
"That's pretty much it," he said. "I stayed up here all summer bulking up, just trying to get everything right."
Cayson, a Warren JFK High graduate, suffered the first major injury of his career last spring. He injured his shoulder in spring practice when a defender hit him in the back near the shoulder blade just before he hit the turf.
The trainers told him to rehab the injury. A week later, they ordered an X-ray. It was broken.
"They had it backward," he said.
He rested his shoulder, then spent the summer in the weight room, adding 20 pounds of muscle. He played last season at 165 pounds. He's now at 186, but said he doesn't feel any slower.
"I actually feel quicker," he said. "Quicker and more powerful."
"It's not fat," YSU coach Jon Heacock said. "He's gained a lot of weight, but it's all muscle. It's the best he's looked since he's been here."
Cayson played in all 10 games last year -- he had four starts -- and gained 674 yards on 142 carries (4.7 average) with four touchdowns.
He'll help anchor a backfield with tailback Monquantae Gibson (680 yards, five TDs) and fullbacks Regis Edgerson (256 yards, two TDs) and Demetrius Ison (104 yards, three TDs).
Tailback Marcus Mason, a transfer from the University of Illinois, recently joined the team and should also see action.
"I think all the kids on the team came back in great condition," Heacock said. "This is the best group I've had in that area.
"The thing is, you don't win championships this time of year, but you can lose them. And we've given ourselves a chance to be successful."
Heacock made it through Monday's practice without incident but is still struggling with two herniated disks in his back. He made it through most of Saturday's practice and all of Sunday's practice, but he hasn't been able to put in a full day.
"I'm doing fine," he said. "It's good for me to be here and it gives us another set of eyes. Hopefully, by the weekend, I'll be feeling better."
Something to prove
The Penguins, who finished in a three-way tie for fifth in the Gateway Conference last year, were picked to finish sixth this year. Needless to say, that prediction wasn't very popular with the Penguins.
Cayson's no exception.
"That [ticked] us off," he said. "We're going to be playing with a chip on our shoulder this year and we're about to prove a lot of people wrong. Our defense is really good. Our offense is a lot better. We're stacked everywhere.
"I definitely think we'll make the playoffs."
Cayson also will be trying to accomplish something else. Thanks to a new NCAA rule, he can regain a lost year of eligibility if he has 80 percent of his classwork completed by next fall. Previously, athletes had to complete 100 percent.
"I'll be able to get it back," he said.
Of course, Cayson's main focus is this season, just like the rest of the Penguins.
"We've done well so far, but it's really just been flag football," said Heacock, whose team has not yet practiced in full pads. "They've worked hard and shown a lot of improvement.
"They're a good group of kids."