Hegedus, Small leaders among YSU defensive backs
asked to contribute
By BOB ETTINGER
Kyle Hegedus and D.J. Smalls are experiencing very different springs in 2018 than they had previously as members of the Youngstown State football team.
In 2017, the pair was fighting to simply make a name for themselves and earn as much playing time as they could. This spring, Hegedus is coming off a season in which he started 10 games and is being looked at as a leader for the Penguins’ secondary as starting safety.
“This year, I’ve taken more of a leadership role,” Hegedus, a redshirt junior, said. “Last spring, I was coming back from an ACL injury and the year before I was just looking to make a name for myself. It’s different out there. I’m trying to play with the same intensity and play the same way I’ve always played, but now I’m a returning starter.”
Smalls didn’t earn his first start until late in the season a year ago, but heads into 2018 near the top of the depth chart as a cornerback.
“You gain more confidence with game experience,” Smalls said. “You get comfortable and know what to expect. I’m a little more comfortable with the scheme. Last spring, everything was faster. Now, it’s slower and I’m able to work on things like my press technique. I know what’s going on and that makes it easier to play.”
For Hegedus to become the leader of that secondary, he understands it’s more than simply going out and playing the game as hard as he can.
“The way to do it is to start by doing things the right way,” he said. “I have to do things the way the coaches ask me to do them. The hardest part for me is speaking up. I was always the quiet guy who led by example. Now, I have to take that chip on my shoulder and get the guys to rally around me or whoever else we need to rally around.”
Though it’s not how he’s used to playing the game, Hegedus is starting to like his new role.
“It’s absolutely something I embrace,” he said. “I’ve always been a guy who takes pride in knowing everything I can. My job back there is to make sure the back seven know what they need to do. It’s something I take pride in.”
Smalls understands that to grow into his role, he needs to have faith in his coaches and teammates. He isn’t shy about admitting that he is one of the faithful.
“I have to keep working hard and putting in the extra work,” he said. “The coaches critique us every day. I have to keep working hard on what they see and talk to us about and be confident. I believe everything out of their mouths. I listen to them. They’re all good coaches from good coaching and playing backgrounds. I listen to them because they’re going to put me in position to win.”