By Joe Scalzo
In the 15 years before he arrived at Youngstown State, Eric Wolford worked at eight different schools with countless coaches.
In the days since Saturday’s win over Pitt, Wolford feels like he’s heard from nearly all of them.
“It’s been overwhelming,” said Wolford. “I really have talked to basically almost everyone I’ve coached [with] in some form or fashion, whether it be text or phone message.”
Over the last three days, Youngstown State has jumped into the top 10 in the polls, got praised by the national media and, on Monday alone, sold more than 1,000 tickets for Saturday’s home opener against Valparaiso.
It seems everyone wants to talk about last week’s game.
Wolford and his players just want to focus on the next one.
“It’s great for the community, it’s great for all the YSU fans and family, but we learned that we have to have a short-term memory here,” said senior RB Jamaine Cook.
Ten months ago, the Penguins didn’t. Coming off a road win over No. 1-ranked North Dakota State, YSU stumbled in its season finale, coughing up a 17-point halftime lead against a 1-9 Missouri State team that cost the Penguins their first playoff berth since 2006.
“We had too many young guys wondering if they’re going to go home for Thanksgiving or not,” said Wolford. “In this game, the [celebration] only lasts 24 hours. You let it last longer than that and it’ll hurt you.”
While it would take a superhuman effort (and, likely, an act of God or two) for Valparaiso to pull the upset, the 24-hour rule will come in handy in a few weeks when the Penguins enter the heart of their schedule.
“That’s something we really stressed in the offseason because I think that we kind of got a big head after the North Dakota State game,” said Cook. “We kind of went into the Missouri State game knowing we were going to win and looking past them and knowing we were going into the playoffs.
“We’re going into every game this year with a chip on our shoulder. We’re not worrying about one week later or two games later. We want to handle our business every week.”
YSU defeated Valparaiso 77-13 last season, setting school records for points in a quarter (35), points in a game, total yards (657) and first downs (34). The Penguins played their second string in the second half and ran the ball on every down.
Saturday’s game could be just as ugly. Valparaiso, a partial-scholarship FCS team, is coming off a last-second loss to Division II St. Joseph’s (Ind.) and has lost 31 of its last 33 games.
The game serves two purposes for YSU. It gives the Penguins a sixth home game (which helps pay the bills) and an FCS victory (which helps them make the playoffs).
YSU drew more than 14,000 fans for last year’s home opener against the Crusaders and the Pitt victory should give more fans a reason to come Saturday.
The Penguins want to make sure they have a reason to stay.
“I haven’t really had that feeling since I’ve been here at YSU,” Cook said of the Pitt win. “But we’re still not satisfied.
“We’re not going to be satisfied until we’re in the national championship game and we have that conference championship.”