Slippery Rock already has a game under its belt, a 40-24 loss to Bloomsburg.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Youngstown State football coach Jon Heacock takes his injury-plagued Penguins into the season opener Thursday night against Slippery Rock at 7:30 at Stambaugh Stadium.
The Penguins have a lot to prove this season, which is also the fifth and final year of Heacock's contract.
YSU is coming off back-to-back losing seasons and the Penguins have not had three consecutive losing seasons since joining Division I-AA in 1980.
The Penguins were 4-7 last season and 5-7 in 2003. Heacock's four-year record at YSU is 24-21, but he has yet to guide the team into the I-AA playoffs.
YSU goes into the opener with several key starters on the injured list, but Heacock feels he has the replacements to get the job done.
Slippery Rock opened the season last Saturday with a 40-24 loss to Bloomsburg after blowing a 24-6 lead in the second half.
"They have the advantage of having played a game already," said Heacock. "Because we didn't play we can't see the films of that game, so really neither of us knows any more about the other than we did from last season.
"We know that they return their quarterback [Nate Crookshank] and top running back [Josh Kniess] and we know that Coach [George] Mihalik's teams are always well prepared and do not make a lot of mistakes," Heacock said.
For the Penguins, two starting offensive linemen (Josh Tanner and Pat Walker) are out for the game, while a third, Tanner Booth, is questionable.
They will also be without senior tailback Josh Cayson, who has been a mainstay of the offense for two seasons. Cayson, a Warren JFK High graduate, is expected to miss seven to eight weeks with a shoulder injury.
"Fortunately we do have some depth at the tailback position," Heacock said. "We've got some folks who can step up and carry the load."
Junior Monquantae Gibson, the team's leading rusher a year ago, will be the starter, while freshman Jabari Scott, who had a good fall camp, will be the backup. Heacock has also moved defensive back Justin Reams over to the offense to add support at tailback.
Senior Jamal Lee, who was moved over from the defensive line, will start in place of Walker, while junior John Foster will start in Tanner's guard position. The other three starters are all returnees -- junior Ryan Jewell at center, senior Tony Limongi at guard and senior John Bartos at tackle.
The tight ends
Senior Aaron Marshall, who was moved from quarterback to tight end this fall, will get the start in the opener, while first-year senior Brian Radakovich, a former YSU basketball standout, will back him up.
Sophomore quarterback Tom Zetts will begin his second season as the starter following an outstanding redshirt freshman season. Junior fullback Demetrius Ison, who was All-Gateway Conference last season, is still nursing an injury and junior Regis Edgerson, a converted tailback, will probably start in his place.
Senior Kyle Smith, the team's top returning receiver, will be joined by senior Damian Wright in the lineup.
Injuries on the defensive line have sidelined junior transfer Greg Jacobs and slowed down senior Brandon Brown, but senior Justin Scholes, freshman Mychal Savage, sophomore Ben Suran and sophomore Jose Galloza all saw action a year ago.
The linebackers are the strong point in the defense, led by senior Mike Andrews, sophomore James Terry and junior Marty Hutchinson, while the secondary includes senior Jason Perry and junior transfer Codera Jackson at the corners along with senior Aaron Scales and sophomore Dorian Chenault at the safeties.
The kicking game will feature junior punter Joe Bishop, while redshirt freshman Brian Palmer will get the nod at placekicker and will also handle kickoffs. Freshman Halley Farrell will back up both positions.
"We feel that we have the opportunity to do what we want to do this season," Heacock said. "I like our schedule and my job is to make sure that they all reach their potential."