To pass a class in your major at Youngstown State, you need a C or higher. Anything else is a failing grade. With that standard in mind, here’s a year-end report card for YSU’s football team by Vindicator sports writer Joe Scalzo, who attended every game, home and away. Note: While the number of returning players can (and will) change by spring practice, every non-senior on the roster is included in this list as a returnee.
Bottom line: Youngstown State averaged 33.8 points and 400.6 yards per game — both second-best in the conference behind North Dakota State — although those numbers dropped quite a bit during the season-ending skid. Kurt Hess had another good year and Martin Ruiz proved a worthy replacement to Jamaine Cook, but outside of the Illinois State game, the offense never seemed to put it all together. It was good, but not great. Still, it was definitely playoff-caliber.
Who’s leaving: Senior Kurt Hess.
Who’s back: Junior Dante Nania, redshirt freshman Tanner Garry, redshirt freshman Nick Wargo.
Who redshirted: Freshman Ricky Davis.
Bottom line: Hess finished with every major passing record in YSU history except one: starts. But while he’ll graduate without a playoff berth on his resume, that’s not on him. He was plenty good enough. Hess’ departure leaves a huge hole in both production and leadership. Neither Nania (the backup for most of the season) nor Garry (who played most of the second half of the North Dakota State loss) looks like the long-term answer and it’s not a good sign that Wargo was the fourth-stringer behind two players (Nania and Garry) that were briefly switched to safety in the spring. Davis spent all season on the scout team. Wolford might want to consider adding an FBS or junior college transfer.
Who’s leaving: Senior Torrian Pace, senior Adaris Bellamy.
Who’s back: Junior Parnell Taylor, sophomore Demond Hymes, sophomore John Medina, redshirt freshman Jody Webb, freshman Martin Ruiz.
Who redshirted: Freshman Ryan Mosora.
Bottom line: Best unit on the team. With Hymes missing the first month with an ankle injury, Ruiz ran away with the starting job, becoming just the fourth freshman in Missouri Valley history to rush for 1,000 yards. He finished with 192 carries for a YSU freshman-record 1,094 yards and 15 TDs. Webb’s combination of speed, vision and balance might be unmatched on the roster. Bellamy ran for 200 yards in the opener and didn’t have another carry, while Pace contributed more in leadership than production. Hymes showed flashes of his talent but was mostly used as a kick returner. Question is, will Hymes try to regain his starting job or look elsewhere?
Who’s leaving: Senior Carson Sharbaugh.
Who’s back: Junior Nate Adams, junior Kintrell Disher, freshman Jacob Wood.
Who redshirted: Freshman Corey Henry.
Bottom line: Sharbaugh was more of a fullback/hybrid and proved to be a monster in short-yardage situations. Adams didn’t get a lot of catches (15 for 225 yards) but had four TDs. He’s a good player. Disher tore his ACL midway through the season but, when healthy, is one of the more talented players on the team. Wood didn’t play much but proved too good to redshirt. He’ll be a factor in the future.
Who’s leaving: Senior Jelani Berassa, senior Kevin Watts.
Who’s back: Junior Christian Bryan, sophomore Andre Stubbs, sophomore Andrew Williams, sophomore Michael Wheary, sophomore Marcel Caver, sophomore Justin Getz, sophomore Edward Killingsworth.
Who redshirted: Freshman Derrick Burgess, freshman Anthony Marchionda, freshman Ian Banks-Tillman, freshman Brad Good.
Bottom line: Yes, YSU is a run-first team but I can’t help feeling a little unsatisfied with this group. Lots of steady plays, but very few “wow” ones. Stubbs was the offense’s most versatile player, rolling up more than 1,000 yards between receptions, rushes and kick returns. Williams and Caver had their moments but didn’t take the next step everyone expected. Bryan is steady but hasn’t been able to match his freshman production. Wheary was too up and down. Berassa never looked like himself after losing last year to ACL surgery. He has petitioned the NCAA for a sixth year but after three ACL tears, it might be time to move on.
Who’s leaving: Senior C Chris Elkins, senior G Fred Herdman, senior T Kyle Bryant, senior T Andrew Sinko.
Who’s back: Junior G Dana Harris, junior C Stephen Page, sophomore T Trevor Strickland, redshirt freshman G Brock Eisenhuth, redshirt freshman T Christian Wilson, redshirt freshman T Dylan Colucci, redshirt freshman G Matt Bell, redshirt freshman C Mason Giacomelli.
Who redshirted: Freshman G Anthony Parente, freshman T Justin Spencer, freshman G Dylan Greenberg, freshman G Cole Newsome, freshman G Jacob Griffith.
Bottom line: Solid but unspectacular. Injuries forced YSU to reshuffle this unit a little but Elkins, Herdman and Sinko (who moved from right tackle to right guard for the last three games) started every game, Bryant started all but two and Strickland and Eisenhuth started the rest. They did a good job against most of the Missouri Valley but were overmatched against the league’s best.
Bottom line: Pick your adjective: bland, ineffective, boring, head-scratching, etc. Regardless, YSU’s defense was lousy yet again, giving up 425.4 yards per conference game. Not only is that dead last, it’s dead last by 55 yards. The bland 4-3 scheme so irritated YSU radio analyst Chris Sammarone that at one point during the season-ending loss he shouted, “Hallelujah, we blitzed!” Wolford is 22-3 when YSU allows 33 points or fewer, which is one of those stats that looks like it should be a misprint. Say what you want about Jon Heacock, but defense wasn’t the problem. With Wolford, it is.
Who’s leaving: Senior DT D.J. Moss, senior DE Kyle Sirl.
Who’s back: Junior DT Octavius Brown, junior DE Vince Coleman, junior DE Desmond Williams, sophomore DT Emmanuel Kromah, sophomore DT Steve Zaborsky, sophomore DE Eric Myers, sophomore DE Terrell Williams, redshirt freshman DT Joshmere Dawson, redshirt freshman DE Chavien Nolcox, freshman DE Derek Rivers, freshman DT Rickey Hagood II.
Who redshirted: Freshman DE DaShawn Scott, freshman DE Fazson Chapman.
Bottom line: If you want to know the biggest difference between YSU and the league’s elite, start here. Consistently underwhelming, occasionally overwhelmed. Sirl was productive and provided good leadership but this group was too often invisible. YSU almost never got pressure without blitzing. The Penguins have had some luck with junior college/Division I transfers on the defensive line in Wolford’s first three seasons but didn’t get much out of the newcomers this fall. The hope is some of the young players will develop.
Who’s leaving: Senior Ali Cheaib, senior Dom Rich.
Who’s back: Junior Teven Williams, junior Travis Williams, sophomore Kevon Caffey, sophomore Dubem Nwadiogbu, sophomore Terry Johnson, freshman Jaylin Kelly, freshman B.J. Welch.
Who redshirted: Freshman Cole Kochman, freshman Rhamir Thomas, freshman Mike Palumbo.
Bottom line: Cheaib moved into the starting lineup late in the season and was productive. Teven Williams was steady and played maybe the best game of his career against UNI. But with three multi-year starters returning, more was expected. Travis Williams had a strong start to the season but mostly disappeared during league play. Bottom line: No consistent playmakers.
Who’s leaving: Senior CB Dale Peterman, senior S Josh Garner.
Who’s back: Junior CB Julius Childs, junior S Donald D’Alesio, junior CB DeVon McKoy, junior CB Jamarious Boatwright, sophomore S Tre’ Moore, redshirt freshman CB David Rivers, redshirt freshman CB Deion Hall, redshirt freshman S Jameel Smith, freshman S Kenny Bishop, freshman CB Eric Thompson.
Who redshirted: Freshman FS Grant Mercer, freshman SS Derek Sulick, freshman CB Damarius Brinson Jr.
Bottom line:Continues to be a weak spot under Wolford. After missing the first month to injury, Peterman was arguably the team’s best defensive player the rest of the way. He’ll be missed. Childs battled injuries and was just a guy out there. Same with D’Alesio, although he did make the occasional big play. YSU’s pass rush didn’t give this unit much help, but stats don’t lie. This unit didn’t scare anyone.
Who’s leaving: Senior P Nick Liste
Who’s back: Junior K Joey Cejudo, junior LS Nathan Gibbs.
Who redshirted: Freshman K Connor McFadden.
Bottom line: A strong start to the season got washed away in losses to UNI (blocked punt, two botched extra points, missed field goal, fumble on a kick return), North Dakota State (blocked field goal) and South Dakota State (botched extra point). Still, a definite improvement over Wolford’s first three years. The coverage units were drastically better and Liste had an all-conference season as a punter and kickoff specialist. Cejudo showed promise. Gibbs had a rough outing against UNI but was otherwise good. Stubbs is a dangerous kick returner and I’d love to see Webb get some time back there, too.
Bottom line: You can complain about Wolford’s sideline demeanor, his cockiness in interviews or his tendency to burn through timeouts, but those are quibbles. The biggest issue is this: After four years, with most of the roster made up of his own recruits, Wolford has talked big and come up small. Youngstown State’s 8-4 record looked more impressive than it was. Three of those wins came against lower-level FCS teams (Dayton, Morehead State and Duquesne) and the Penguins went 1-4 against their five best opponents, with the only impressive win coming at Southern Illinois. Wolford has increased the win total in each of his four years but he knows as well as anyone that eight-win seasons don’t mean much when they end before Thanksgiving. Defensive coordinator Joe Tresey was supposed to be an upgrade over Rick Kravitz, but the defense doesn’t look any different to me. It might be time for more coaching changes on that side of the ball. New special teams coach Jamie Bryant did a terrific job and Shane Montgomery again proved to be one of the program’s biggest assets but they can’t turn off the heat on the program’s head coach. Four years ago, when YSU made a big financial investment in the football program, athletic director Ron Strollo thought he was handing Wolford the keys to a Cadillac. Sure looks like a Ford Taurus to me.