By Brian Dzenis
There is talent from the Mahoning Valley joining Youngstown State’s football team, but head coach Bo Pelini can’t talk about them just yet.
With heavy snow closing schools around Ohio, it caused a delay in some of the necessary paperwork going from prospects’ high schools to YSU, which made for an awkward National Signing Day. When Pelini stepped to the podium at 10:30 a.m. to greet the media Wednesday morning, he had just five recruits signed. NCAA rules prohibit coaches and schools from publicly discussing players who have not signed a letter-of-intent.
“I think with Twitter and all that stuff, people know who those gentleman are,” Pelini said of the unconfirmed prospects. “With schools not in, we can’t announce them yet. This class is a mix of out-of-state and the majority is local kids — kids from around Ohio and western Pennsylvania.”
By Wednesday afternoon, the Penguins had 10 signatures from scholarship athletes. Pelini said he expects to sign 12 to 13 players. Area players joining the team include Liberty’s Dra Rushton, Cardinal Mooney’s Vinnie Gentile and Ursuline’s Jared Fabry. Rushton — a quarterback at Liberty and projected to be a tailback at YSU — was the lone player of the trio to make the list of 10 incoming scholarship players. Both Mooney coach P.J. Fecko and Ursuline coach Larry Kempe told the Vindicator on Wednesday that their respective players are joining the team on scholarship. Pelini did not mention any of the three aforementioned players by name, but discussed his local signings in general terms.
“It’s one thing if you’re taking a junior college kid or a graduate transfer to fill a need, you’ll develop them a little but they’re almost ready made. With a lot of kids, it’s not just what they are, but what they can be down the road,” Pelini said. “There’s a position change or kids grow, but at the end of the day, you want to watch them. You want to see them compete on the football field, work hard, be a winner and show the intangibles that you want in your program and culture. I think all the local kids we’re signing fit that culture.”
YSU is also seeing an influx of locals into its walk-on ranks. Some of the players included Austintown Fitch’s Randy Smith and Nick Desalvo, Beaver Local’s Zach Thomas, Canfield’s Vinny Fiorenza and Paul French, Girard’s Michael Belcik, Poland’s Jonah Spencer and Mike Diaz, Salem’s Mitch Davidson and Valley Christian’s Frederick Hicks.
“Once they’re on campus, there’s no difference as far as I’m concerned. Some of those kids may earn money and some will not,” Pelini said. “Some may see playing time and others might not play much. I don’t have a crystal ball. If you come from a good program, you’ve been well coached, but it’s a different game when you get to this level. It’s a big step up.”
Besides Rushton, there are two other Ohio signees with the Penguins. Markel Toney is a 6-foot-5 wideout from Brush High School and defensive end Will Henry comes in from Lakewood St. Edward.
Georgia, California, Alabama, Maryland and Florida are represented with the remaining signees.
What junior college transfer Henry Yoboue lacks in football experience, he makes up in size and potential. At 6-8 and 310 pounds, Yoboue becomes the tallest player on the roster. The Ivory Coast native played just two years of high school football and two more seasons at ASA College, but is considered to be a three-star recruit. The offensive lineman declined offers from Arizona State, Kent State and UAB to join YSU. Pelini doubled up on ASA College recruits with Opelika, Ala., defensive tackle Jaicorious Johnson, for whom YSU is his third post-graduate stop.
Tight end Jake Benio and safety Jaelin Madison each hail from Georgia.
Defensive back Davanere Crenshaw and offensive lineman Brandon Benio are a pair of junior college transfers from the Sunshine State.
Those signings are on top of 13 additions the team made during the December signing period, which is something Pelini likes.
“For us, it clears some things up. For the kids we signed, you don’t have to continue to see them and — you don’t want to say babysit them — but that’s kind of what it is with the kids who commit. You have to go see them and spend money to go see them, so that makes sense for us.”
But if Pelini had his way, there wouldn’t be any signing days.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it one last time: Whether it’s an early signing day or a late signing day, why have a signing day at all?” Pelini said. “If he’s committed and you’re committed and you have scholarship room, sign him. Get it over with.”