By Joe Scalzo
For each of the past three years, Selection Sunday has turned into Dejection Sunday for Youngstown State’s football team.
“We have enough guys that have been around that remember that feeling after the last game,” Penguins offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery said at the beginning of training camp. “For the seniors and the guys who have played, we don’t want to have that feeling again.
“We need to just take the initiative ourselves and go out and perform on the field.”
That quest begins Saturday at Illinois and ends on Nov. 22 at North Dakota State. While much of this month’s drama centered around who would replace Kurt Hess at quarterback, there are plenty of new faces elsewhere.
Here’s a breakdown of YSU’s depth chart entering the opener:
Starter: Junior Dante Nania.
Backup: Freshman Hunter Wells.
Outlook: Nania used strong performances in the spring and summer to grab the starting job. He’ll start the season as a game manager, with lots of runs and quick passes, but he’s got the talent to do more. Wells is a taller version of Hess, with an average arm but above-average intelligence and accuracy.
Starter: Sophomore Martin Ruiz.
Backup: Sophomore Jody Webb.
Outlook: The team’s strongest position features the Missouri Valley’s reigning newcomer of the year (Ruiz) and the spring game MVP (Webb). Ruiz is arguably the team’s best player, while Webb is a hold-your-breath touchdown threat.
Wide receiver/TIGHT END
Starters: Senior WRs Jelani Berassa and Andrew Williams, junior WR Andre Stubbs, senior TE Nate Adams.
Backups: Senior WR Christian Bryan, junior WR Michael Wheary, freshman WR Darien Townsend, sophomore TE Jacob Wood.
Outlook: Two years after tearing his ACL, Berassa should give the Penguins the true No. 1 receiver they’ve been lacking the past two years. Stubbs is the team’s most versatile player, while Williams brings a good combination of size and speed. Adams is a good blocker and underrated receiving threat. Wood should be a weapon in the passing game.
Starters: Junior LT Trevor Strickland, sophomore LG Dylan Colucci, senior C Stephen Page, sophomore RG Brock Eisenhuth, redshirt freshman Justin Spencer.
Backups: Sophomore LT Christian Wilson, redshirt freshman Anthony Parente, sophomore C Matt Bell, redshirt freshman Cole Newsome, redshirt freshman Cameron Fraser.
Outlook: Young, but talented. Eisenhuth (nine starts) and Strickland (five starts) are the only ones with experience, so it may take time to jell, but Wolford likes this unit’s potential.
Starters: Junior DE Terrell Williams, junior DT Emmanuel Kromah, senior NT Octavius Brown, sophomore DE Derek Rivers.
Backups:Senior DE Desmond Williams, junior DT Steve Zaborsky, junior NT Jimmie Kitchen, redshirt freshman Kevin Rader.
Outlook: On paper, YSU looks strong inside but the ends are a question mark. Rivers flashed some serious potential last year and Williams started all 12 games in 2013, but they’ll need to up their production. This was a weak spot last year.
Starters: Senior Travis Williams (strongside), junior Laron Taylor (middle), junior Dubem Nwadiogbu (weakside).
Backups: Sophomores Jaylin Kelly and B.J. Welch and redshirt freshman Mike Palumbo.
Outlook: Taylor, a University of Iowa transfer, takes over for three-year starter Teven Williams, who was kicked off the team before spring ball. Travis Williams might be the team’s best athlete but needs to be more consistent. Nwadiogbu earned a starting spot two years ago before tearing his ACL. He’s finally regaining his form.
Starters: Senior CB Julius Childs, sophomore CB Nate Dortch, senior FS Donald D’Alesio, sophomore SS Jameel Smith.
Backups: Junior CB Kenneth Durden, sophomore CB Eric Thompson, sophomore FS Kenny Bishop, junior SS Tre’ Moore.
Outlook: Childs enters his third year as a starter while Dortch is a talented transfer from the University of Miami (Fla.). D’Alesio is the team’s most experienced defender and Smith should be more consistent after an up-and-down freshman year.
Starters: Senior P/K Joey Cejudo, senior LS Nathan Gibbs.
Backups: Redshirt freshman K Connnor McFadden, freshman P Nick Sheely.
Outlook: Cejudo has a big leg and looks capable of handling both duties after the graduation of Nick Liste. Then-coordinator Jamie Bryant turned YSU’s special teams into an above-average unit last year and the Penguins will need that to continue after his shift to defensive coordinator.