Saturday, March 18, 2017
By Charles Grove
Youngstown State has the tall task of replacing two studs the Penguins could rely upon last year at safety in LeRoy Alexander and Jameel Smith. This year it appears seniors Billy Nicoe Hurst and Jalyn Powell will be the two to step into those roles.
The two aren’t without some experience. Both saw the field on a somewhat regular basis throughout the year but they got thrown into the mix late in the season when suspensions forced Hurst and Powell to play against the best offense in the FCS in Eastern Washington before going up against James Madison in the national championship game.
“Nicoe and Jalyn went in and did a good job for us in the last couple of games last season which is huge for us to be able to carry over to this season,” YSU defensive backs coach Richard McNutt said. “We also have younger guys who are picking up the system well.”
YSU head coach Bo Pelini said he’s seeing a lot of improvement from the secondary overall, but the cornerbacks have really caught his attention in spring ball.
“Our top two corners who are lining up with the [first-string wide receivers], Darius Hall and D.J. Smalls have shown significant improvement over the last two days.”
Pelini said that’s especially impressive with the way the offense has been performing. Hunter Wells is solidly the starting quarterback at this point and the wide receivers have had a year to grow into offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery’s system.
“I think Hunter is playing really well,” Pelini said. “He’s making good decisions and throwing the ball good. Having that experience on offense tests you as a defense and it’s definitely a good thing.”
McNutt said it’s good to have a bit of role reversal for his young cornerbacks from years past when they were the one with the experienced players.
“It’s awesome that [the offense] has experience back because that’s how it was for us the last two years,” McNutt said. “We had older guys and now with them having the older guys they should be competing and clicking. It gives us a good measuring tool for our younger guys because they’re going out and competing against really good players, some of the best we’ll see all year.
“If we can hold our own against our own players then we’ll be pretty good.”
Powell said he’s not so much concerned with how the offense is clicking but how much growth he’s able to get out of spring ball.
“I’m taking a different role this year as more of a leader as a senior,” Powell said. “I’ve just got to be focused on everything and do everything right for the younger guys and everybody that’s looking up to me.
“I definitely need to be a stronger communicator and make sure I’m keeping everyone on the same page on the field and making sure everyone knows what’s going on.”
Pelini said his NCAA Tournament bracket was in pretty good shape after Thursday’s set of games, but he had one miss Friday that had him shaking his head.
“My bracket was in pretty good shape until Seton Hall lost,” Pelini said. “I think I only had one loss Thursday but I think I had Seton Hall beating North Carolina, so that kind of screwed my bracket up.”