By Joe Scalzo
Youngstown State offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery won a state championship as a high school quarterback at Newark Catholic, finished second team All-ACC as a college quarterback at North Carolina State, coached a future Super Bowl champion (Ben Roethlisberger) at Miami (Ohio) and, over the last four years, helped Kurt Hess break just about every passing record in Penguin history.
He knows quarterbacks.
He just doesn’t know who’s going to be his next quarterback.
“Ask me August 30,” he said, smiling.
OK. Is the next quarterback at least on the roster?
“You would think so,” he said.
Over the next month, YSU needs to find out.
The Penguins opened spring practice on Saturday. While senior Dante Nania took the first offensive snap, there’s no guarantee he’ll do the same in YSU’s opener at Illinois on Aug. 30.
Nania (21 career passing attempts) and sophomore Tanner Garry (10 career passing attempts) are the only two YSU quarterbacks who have attempted a collegiate pass. Sophomore Nick Wargo has appeared in one game, while redshirt freshman Ricky Davis spent last fall running the scout team.
None will speak to the media this spring, since Montgomery wants them to focus on improving, not on starting.
“I like all of them,” YSU coach Eric Wolford said. “They all have zip on the ball and I like their ability to run. That’s a big thing today in college football.”
Nania, who backed up Hess last fall, will get the first chance to win the job but you get the sense that Davis might be the odds-on favorite due to his talent and youth.
“It’s going to be a very interesting spring,” Wolford said of the QB competition. “Is it going to be resolved by the end of spring? I don’t know. We’re going to find that guy that can manage the game. We can win a lot of football games here if we don’t turn the ball over.”
Here are three other issues facing YSU this spring:
Can Jamie Bryant fix the defense?
Bryant, who coached special teams last fall, replaces defensive coordinator Joe Tresey, whose unit finished last in the Missouri Valley by more than 50 yards.
Bryant spent two years as Vanderbilt’s defensive coordinator and helped turn YSU’s beleaguered special teams into one of the league’s best last fall. He’ll keep the 4-3 setup, but has simplified the concepts so the Penguins are focused on playing fast, not on thinking.
“I told him I want the same results on defense that we had with our special teams last year,” Wolford said. “I’ve got confidence he’ll get it done.”
Who will replace Teven Williams?
Williams, who was kicked off the team in the offseason for violating team rules, led the team in tackles at middle linebacker the past three years. Sophomore Jaylin Kelly will get the first chance to replace him.
“He’s basically the quarterback [of the defense] so he needs to learn pretty fast,” senior LB Travis Williams said of Kelly. “He’s in the film room as much as me because he’s got to know what’s in front of him.”
Can this team be better than the last three?
The Penguins have made just one playoff appearance (2006) since Jim Tressel left and have fallen one game short in each of the past three years.
Graduation took YSU’s four-year starter at quarterback, along with four starting offensive linemen, its best defensive lineman, its best defensive back and an all-conference punter. But plenty of talent remains.
Armed with a contract extension and three new coaches, it’s up to Wolford to maximize it.
As he’s fond of saying, “We all know what the standard is around here.”