The Penguins have talent and experience this season.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- The growing pains are hopefully over for the Youngstown State football team's defensive unit and better things are expected by the coaching staff.
A year ago the young defense allowed over 24 points per game and 378 yards in offense while struggling through a 4-7 season, the second straight losing campaign for coach Jon Heacock.
But, as the Penguins prepare for Thursday's season opener against Slippery Rock at Stambaugh Stadium, optimism is running high with Heacock and his co-defensive coordinators, Mike Kolakowski and Dana Chambers.
The Penguins have 10 players who started at least one game a year ago on defense.
They also have four transfers who are expected to make an immediate impact.
Experience big factor
According to Kolakowski, now in his second season, experience is the key word this season.
"We went through a lot of growing pains last season and hopefully that's over now," Kolakowski said. "We are definitely better than we were a year ago at this time as we've watched films of last year's Slippery Rock game and our most recent scrimmage.
"We've now got a grasp on our defensive techniques, we know where we're supposed to be and the big thing is these kids are working so very hard to become better," he added.
Strength at linebacker
Going into the season the strength of the defense seems to fall with the linebackers. Five players, all with a lot of playing experience, return.
"James Terry [6-foot-2, 220 pound sophomore) could be an outstanding linebacker here," Kolakowski said. "Plus Mike Andrews (6-1, 230, senior) had just an outstanding camp."
Add juniors Jeremiah Wright (5-10, 210), Marty Hutchinson (6-4, 210) and Jeff Koval (6-1, 225) to the mix and the Penguins have a outstanding group, which doesn't include sophomore transfer Maurice Smith-Davis (6-1, 245) who is just over a week behind the others after attending summer school.
YSU linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky, now in his third season, is pleased with the play of his group.
"We've got some talent there, but the big thing is just how everybody has blended into the unit," he said. "Everybody now feels comfortable because everybody knows just where they belong on the field.
"The thing about our linebackers is that they are all different," he said. "If I listed seven different categories I'd have a different one at the top of each category."
Injuries have slowed the defense's progress this fall.
Sophomore transfer Greg Jacobs (6-3, 265), the nose tackle, has missed a good portion of the camp and will probably miss the opener.
Senior defensive end Brandon Brown (6-1, 252) has been hampered by injuries and is just now playing himself into shape, but should be ready for Thursday's game.
The two transfers, Jacobs and freshman Mychal Savage (6-2, 310), have made a big impact on the front line.
The secondary is small, but as Kolakowski indicated, they are very quick and have some experience.
Perry one of best
Senior Jason Perry (5-8, 160) is probably one of the best cornerbacks in the Gateway Conference and junior college transfer Codera Jackson (5-10, 173, junior) gives the team experience at the other corner.
There is not as much experience returning at safety with sophomore Dorian Chenault (6-1, 190), sophomore Tony Lawrence (6-1, 173) and sophomore Bob Perez (6-0, 205) leading the way.
"We are finally coming together as a unit and just how quickly we progress will determine our success this season," Kolakowski said.