The Penguins were picked to finish sixth in the Gateway Conference.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
ST. LOUIS, Mo. -- The start of football practice is less than two weeks away for Youngstown State, but a couple of Penguins got a taste of what the Gateway Conference has in store for them this season.
The Gateway Football Conference media day was held Tuesday at the Renaissance St. Louis Hotel and the Penguins were represented by assistant head coach Sam Eddy, senior wide receiver Kyle Smith and sports information director Trevor Parks.
Eddy subbed for coach Jon Heacock, who was unable to attend because of a back ailment.
The Penguins, who haven't gotten much respect from the conference since becoming members in 1997, once again were picked near the bottom of the pre-season standings, sixth out of eight teams.
They also had only one first-team preseason all-league selection, junior fullback Demetrius Ison, along with a pair of honorable mention picks, senior defensive end Brandon Brown and junior linebacker Jeremiah Wright.
Top of the heap
Southern Illinois, the two-time defending champion, was again picked No. 1, followed by Western Kentucky, Northern Iowa, Missouri State (formerly Southwest Missouri State), YSU, Illinois State and Indiana State.
Eddy addressed the gathering by talking about the YSU defense, which he feels will be greatly improved this season.
"We will be very quick on defense," said Eddy, who coaches the running backs. "We added a couple of players this spring who have made a big impact on our defense."
Eddy also talked about sophomore quarterback Tom Zetts, the Boardman native who started all 11 games last season as a redshirt freshman.
"We feel very confident with Tom back there and this being only his second full season he is still in the development stages," Eddy said.
"Tom has the makeup to be a champion quarterback and everybody knows that you can't be a great football team without a great quarterback."
He also talked about Ison's contribution to the offense.
"He's the type of player that you can't get the ball in his hands enough during a game," Eddy said. "He's a great running back and receiver, but he's our fullback because he is so good at that position."
Smith will start the season with a streak of 23 games in which he has caught at least one pass.
Offense should be better
He expects the offense to perform well this season.
"Tom now has a year under his belt and he had a pretty good season a year ago, but now it's time that he comes out of his shell," Smith said.
"We've been working together all summer long and with his work ethics he's only going to get better this year.
"When Ison came here there were already several good fullbacks and last year was the first chance he got to show what he had and he really made an impression," Smith said.
Gateway commissioner Patty Viverito gave her state of the conference address.
She said that the conference would continue its sportsmanship trend this season with the team pre-game handshake which was adopted a year ago.
Southwest Missouri State will officially be renamed Missouri State beginning Aug. 28.
Heacock, who is beginning his fifth season as the Penguins coach, is in the final season of his current contract.
Smith said that the players are aware of that and are concerned about it.
"It will certainly add some pressure to this season," he said. "We all want to do everything that we can to make sure that Coach is around for many years to come."
The Penguins will report for fall practice Aug. 5 and the first practice session will be Aug. 6. The team will hold its photo day Aug. 10 at Stambaugh Stadium and will put on pads for the first time Aug. 11.
The season opener is slated for Sept. 1 at home against Slippery Rock University at 7:30 p.m.