By Joe Scalzo
Youngstown State linebacker Dom Rich will be a fifth-year senior in the fall but even after not shaving for more than a week, he’s got (at best) a sophomore-level beard.
“I’m looking pretty shaggy right now,” he said.
Fortunately for Rich, linebackers aren’t measured by facial hair or stopwatches or high school recruiting rankings. They’re measured by what they’re willing to do in the trenches, which is where the former walk-on earns his scholarship.
“I love hitting. I’ve always been told by my dad and my uncles and grandfathers that it separates the men from the boys,” said Rich, a Canfield High graduate. “I’m here to be a physical presence down there on the line of scrimmage and that’s what I love doing.”
Rich (6-foot-1, 235) played in all 11 games last fall at Will (weakside) linebacker with eight starts. Both numbers were career-highs for Rich, who typically plays on first and second down before getting removed for a nickel defensive back.
“I’m a run-stopper,” he said. “Whether that’s first or second down, or sometimes third down, I’ll do whatever I’ve got to do.
“You can’t be afraid. You get a stocky fullback, kind of like myself, you’ve got to get lower than them. You can never have fear on the football field.”
Rich doesn’t put up great statistics — he had 17 tackles last year, which was also a career-high — but he’s always in the right spot and always brings the right attitude, YSU coach Eric Wolford said. Rich was voted a team captain last season after overseeing linebacker workouts as a “player representative” during summer workouts.
Not bad for a guy who walked on the team late into Jon Heacock’s final year.
“He’s a leadership guy,” said YSU coach Eric Wolford. “He’s been voted a team captain and that obviously speaks to what his peers think of him.
“He’ll go back [today] and watch the film with our defense and tell those guys they need to tighten up things a little bit as they go into Saturday [practice].”
While Teven and Travis Williams started most of YSU’s games at linebacker last fall, and led the team in tackles, there was a sense that they underachieved, combining for just two sacks, one forced fumble, no fumble recoveries and no interceptions.
“This is their third year starting and they’re stepping up, and as a whole linebacker unit they’re causing more turnovers and making more big plays,” Rich said.
The Penguins’ defense finally started living up to expectations in November, holding their final three opponents to 10 points or fewer. They won all three games.
“I just think, like Coach Wolf said and Coach [Joe] Tresey said — our guys weren’t all in on defense,” Rich said. “I don’t know if [it’s because] some guys were young or weren’t playing, but we got the message in the month of October.
“We’re starting to learn the defense and really starting to come together compared to last year. You’ve got to be all in throughout all months of the season.”