By Joe Scalzo
Youngstown State’s latest recruiting class is heavy with players from the Buckeye State and the Sunshine State, but it’s never been lighter on recruits from what Jim Tressel used to call the “State of Youngstown.”
For the second time in three years, Penguins coach Eric Wolford recruited just one player from the tri-county area — Fitch punter Nick Sheely this year, Mooney lineman Austin Trgovcich in 2012 — as his staff focused its attention southward, securing eight commitments from Florida in the 24-player class.
YSU also signed seven Ohioans and four from Western Pennsylvania, including Neshannock lineman Steven Jeffries.
“Once again, we did very well from Cleveland to Pittsburgh,” Wolford said. “We signed nine guys in that area and that’s basically kind of become our backyard.”
Wolford, a former offensive lineman at Kansas State, said the Valley’s dwindling population has diluted its talent base, forcing YSU to expand to other parts of the state and the country. He cited his Ursuline High School class of 1989, which produced six Division I players and a I-AA recruit. The Mahoning Valley produced 27 Division I recruits overall that year, with 10 heading to YSU.
This year, the Valley had four Division I recruits.
“Being able to get out of state and have success — North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Virginia and Detroit — helps us fill our class with the type of players that we think we need to win the Missouri Valley Conference,” Wolford said. “Cleveland to Pittsburgh is basically good for 7-10 players on average for us in recruiting and those have been good players.
“Where do we get the other 10? We get into Cincinnati a little bit sometimes but Ohio has so many MAC [Mid-American Conference] schools fighting one another for the same type of player, that I’ve got to continue to expand my recruiting network.”
Wolford said this year was a down year for the Valley — “Next year obviously looks better,” he said — but admitted Youngstown is no longer one of Ohio’s most popular recruiting destinations.
“It’s changed,” he said. “People have moved, the jobs have been ... whatever. Whatever the reason may be, it’s just not the same.”
Wolford beat out three-time defending national champion North Dakota State for one recruit, safety Shane Dixon (Bradenton, Fla.), and signed another that had been committed to Western Michigan: CB Chrispin Lee (Pembroke Pines, Fla.).
But Wolford also lost two recruits in the last month to Boise State and Ball State. He admitted it’s difficult for an FCS school to beat FBS schools for recruits.
“That’s why I have to have a long list,” he said.
YSU recruited 13 offensive players, 10 defensive players and one on special teams (Sheely) and Wolford said the only surefire redshirts are those on the offensive line.
Two running back recruits have already enrolled for the spring semester — Ryan Moore (York, S.C.) and Sidney Sandidge (Amherst, Va.) — even though that is an area of strength for the Penguins, whose top two rushers last season (Martin Ruiz and Jody Webb) were both freshmen.
“I’m trying to create a formation where we can play with six running backs,” Wolford joked. “I also believe in competition. We’re going to continue to press the envelope as far as bringing in talent.
“Our philosophy has always been: We are going to bring in someone this year we believe is better on film than someone from the previous recruiting class. If not, we’re not going to sign them.”