By Joe Scalzo
Youngstown State senior center Chris Elkins has 26 career starts and three career interviews, which is a good ratio for him.
He’s only slightly more quotable than his helmet (and still grows about as much facial hair) but he does his best talking on the field, where he’s been the team’s best offensive lineman for the past two years — no small feat for a team that sent guard Lamar Mady to February’s NFL combine.
“He’s an overachiever,” YSU coach Eric Wolford said. “He just works hard and does things the right way. He’s kind of a quiet leader and he’s a pleasure to be around.”
Elkins moved into the starting lineup as a true freshman in 2010, starting the final four games at guard when right tackle D.J. Main went down, forcing Wolford to shuffle his lineup. Wolford would have preferred to redshirt Elkins — he weighed just 250 pounds, compared to 300 now — but he stuck with his “best five guys play” approach, and Elkins was one of his best five.
“It was good to come in and get experience but I don’t know if I was ready for that,” he said. “I learned what I was doing. It wasn’t that bad.”
When asked what he saw in Elkins, Wolford smiled and said, “You know what? He was just relentless. He was a guy that would get his hands on you, he played low [to the ground], he’d fight you, he’d scrap you. He’s not the most impressive guy, necessarily, to look at, but he’s just a tough guy. An overachiever.
“You’ve got to have guys like that.”
Elkins started every game at guard the past two years, earning the team’s respect for his quiet, blue-collar approach while paving the way for one of the nation’s best rushing offenses. He was the only Penguin to earn first team all-conference honors last season.
“I just try and worry about doing my job and doing everything I can to help make this team win,” Elkins said. “That [all-conference honor] doesn’t really matter. It’s good to look at after the season’s over.”
With center Mark Pratt graduating, Elkins has shifted to center this spring. And with four senior starters graduating, he’s also tried to be more of a leader.
“I’ve always been surrounded by guys older than me and those guys are all gone, so it’s definitely different,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of new guys but there’s definitely a lot of physical players here now.
“I think we can be just as good and our goal is obviously to be better than we were last year.”
Nania, Garry switch
YSU sophomore Dante Nania moved back to quarterback Thursday after spending the first seven practices at safety.
“We wanted to give him a fair shake at safety,” Wolford said.
Walk-on Tanner Garry, who had been practicing at QB, was shifted to safety. Garry played safety in high school.
“When we moved him over, he said he wasn’t afraid to hit anybody,” Wolford said. “We’re going to find out Saturday.”
YSU will hold its first spring scrimmage Saturday at 11 a.m.