By Joe Scalzo
A week after getting yelled at for skipping breakfast, Youngstown State running back Demond Hymes started Saturday with a banana, some granola bars, a couple Toaster Strudels, water and Gatorade.
Once he got on the field, head coach Eric Wolford kept feeding him.
Hymes had eight carries for 33 yards in YSU’s first spring scrimmage, finishing as the team’s only healthy running back — and its best one, according to the Penguins’ head coach.
“If we started [playing] games [today], Demond Hymes would be our starter,” Wolford said.
“I’m gonna hold on to that [spot] the rest of the year,” he said with his typical confidence, “and get us to the championship.”
Hymes, a Warren Harding High graduate, is vying with seniors Adaris Bellamy (who will miss the rest of spring with a sprained AC joint) and Torrian Pace (who tweaked his ankle during Saturday’s scrimmage) for the chance to replace Jamaine Cook in the starting lineup.
Generously (and erroneously) listed at 5-foot-11, the 200-pound Hymes doesn’t have the size or the power of the other two backs. But he’s a quick and decisive runner, capable of turning routine runs into big plays. And he’s getting less and less fun to tackle, junior safety Donald D’Alesio said.
“Demond, he ran hard today, harder than I’ve probably seen him run,” D’Alesio said. “Me and him met in the hole a couple times and I felt it.”
Hymes even finished practice with blood stains on his thigh pads. Someone else’s blood.
“It’s a bang day,” Hymes said.
Hymes redshirted in 2011, but not before telling reporters that August he was gunning for Cook’s starting spot. (Cook just laughed.) Hymes saw limited time last fall, carrying 17 times for 93 yards (most of them in a blowout win over Valparaiso) and returning six kickoffs for 117 yards.
Several times this spring, Wolford has said he regretted not giving Hymes more opportunities. That wasn’t a problem Saturday.
“Everyone else was hurt, so I had to finish strong,” Hymes said. “I’ll put the team on my back if I have to. If you ask me to run the ball, as long as my heart’s pumping, I’m gonna do it.”
Hymes is a natural runner, but he admitted he needed to improve his blocking and do a better job working with his linemen. He’s doing that this spring.
“Seeing the pullers, seeing people blitzing and stuff like that,” he said. “If you read the defense, you’ll be out there on the field. This year I learned that and I’m out there.”
And what do the Penguins need to do to improve offensively?
“Play as a team, play as one, play as a whole,” he said. “One heartbeat.”