Sunday, August 19, 2018
By Brian Dzenis
It wasn’t planned this way, but Youngstown State is prepared to go into the season without both its starting safeties.
The Penguins’ defense has taken another blow this offseason with starter Kyle Hegedus tearing his ACL. Piling onto the bad news is senior Deshon Taylor’s football career coming to an abrupt end. Saturday’s scrimmage was a chance to put their replacements to work.
“We move on. I feel bad because the guy works hard and he’s a leader — the guy’s a warrior,” head coach Bo Pelini said of Hegedus. “At the same time, if it’s going to happen, it better happen early. It’s given us a chance to make some adjustments.”
Taylor was slated to become the replacement for the graduated Jayln Powell, but back issues will keep him off the field.
“He was having some kind of tingling in his arm and any time you have that thing going on, we [had him undergo an MRI exam],” Pelini said. “He has a deal where he doesn’t have enough separation in his vertebrae and when that happens, you’re done. He’s got a long life ahead of him and we don’t want to see him in a wheelchair.”
Taylor will stay around as an undergraduate coach. Because his injuries occurred earlier in camp, YSU was already at work figuring out who can step in at safety. On Saturday, senior Avery Larkin was in Hegedus’ strong safety spot and sophomore Terray Bryant was at free safety.
Senior Crispin Lee, sophomore Sam McGuigan and senior wideout Donovan McWilson converted to saftey to help shore up some depth.
The new-look secondary got a trial by fire from YSU’s wideouts. Montgomery VanGorder — who got all the first-team reps with Nathan Mays still wearing a walking boot — hit Jeremiah Braswell for a 50-yard touchdown pass, while going 7 for 14 for 125 yards with no turnovers. Samuel St. Surin caught three passes for 43 yards.
“For us, it’s about getting them the best looks that we can so we can get their feet wet,” Braswell said. “We know they’re new guys, young guys and people who haven’ been here a long time and it’s on us to give them the best game-time looks.”
The second- and third-string defenses won the turnover battle as QBs Joe Craycraft and Jaden Cunningham each threw two picks.
Braswell and St. Surin are the starters at wideout, Pelini said. YSU’s receivers took six games to score a touchdown and seven to get 100 yards in a game. The pair is ready if called upon.
“It’s going to come. It might be the first game. It might be the last game,” St. Surin said of a breakout game. “It’s about not being selfish and sticking to the game plan.
YOUTH STEPS UP
Wesley Thompson got a foot in the door for a starting job in spring ball and hasn’t left. In the team’s second scrimmage, the redshirt sophomore from Boardman continued to get first-team reps at defensive tackle and looks to be playing his way into a starting role with consistently good performances.
Thompson said he’s following the rules for his position: Pay attention to details and discipline, don’t take plays off and be a good teammate.
“Since I’ve been a freshman here, I’ve been messing up the little things. There’s times where I thought I’d never play and then [Savon Smith] was down all spring,” Thompson said. “I gained the confidence that I needed and I’ve been rolling with it.”
It’s a similar scenario for redshirt freshman Antoine Cook. Ma’Lik Richmond’s recent foot injury has pressed him into a first-team role. On Saturday, Cook picked up two sacks and he credits his time red-shirting in 2017 to prepare him for this season.
“It kind of humbled me. It taught me that I have to perfect the small things to become a starter, but I still have juniors and seniors in front of me,” Cook said. “I’m just being patient. I’m stilling learning and trying to perfect everything that I do and do what I have to do to help the team.”