Published September 27, 2011
Youngstown State coach Eric Wolford is a 40-year-old ex-Division I colllege lineman but he looked at least 10 years younger on Tuesday as he oversaw line drills.
"I can still play," he said, bending down into a squat.
When told by a TV reporter that the Steelers could use a few linemen, Wolford said, "It might be the Brownies' year. I like the new coach of the Browns [Pat Shurmur], so I'm actually rooting for them, believe it or not. You've got to love the way Colt McCoy manages a game."
When I told him I didn't like their chances against the Ravens, he said, "The Ravens are a difficult team. They've got an emotional leader in Ray Lewis. He's a good football player."
I'm not sure if he meant anything by that statement but it was hard not to overanalyze it. Although I spent all of Saturday's loss to Indiana State in the press box on the other side of YSU's sideline, I've been told by several people that no one on the defense stepped up and got into someone's face during the team's first half struggles.
"They were basically shocked," one person told me.
There's a simple reason for this. They don't have a Ray Lewis.
Senior co-captain Andrew Johnson has been the team's best defensive player through the first four weeks but he's more of a lead-by-example guy. Same with linebacker/co-captain John Sasson, who came off the bench in that game.
Everyone else is new.
In his two years, Wolford has upgraded the team's talent base, but it's going to take time before a lot of these young defensive players to grow into leadership roles. You could tell at Tuesday's practice -- YSU's first since Saturday -- that the energy level was still a little down after the loss. One of the biggest challenges for this coaching staff is to make sure they don't have a repeat of last season, when the defense went south and stayed south.
The Penguins have a bye this weekend, then host a South Dakota State team that saw its three-year starting quarterback quit two weeks ago.
With Southern Illinois looming, it's a must-win. But it's also a game where someone on the defense needs to step up and become a playmaker. Because this team isn't going anywere without a few.
Wolford came across 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh on Tuesday. Harbaugh's team is practicing at YSU for the next two weeks after an ugly win over the Bengals on Sunday.
"I told Coach Harbaugh, 'A win's a win,' and sometimes wins are hard to come by," Wolford said. "That was ugly but sometimes you've got to win ugly. You've got to win time of possession and play keepaway with the ball. Sometimes that's what you've got to do."
And sometimes, even that's not enough. YSU won the time of possession in most of its games last year and this year. But the team has yet to win a road game under Wolford.
It'd help if someone on the defense would start playing takeaway.
Here's this week's trivia question.
On the 1991 national championship team, quarterback Ray isaac and WR Herb Williams hooked up for some of the season's biggest plays.
What were their nicknames? (I need both for you to win.)
The first person to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with the correct answer will receive two reserved seat tickets to the Oct. 8 home game against South Dakota State, where YSU will be honoring that 1991 team.
I'll have a big feature on that 1991 team in Sunday's paper (and an even bigger version online). I talked to Jim Tressel this morning and I'll have comments from several other key players from that team.
UPDATE: Our tickets have been claimed! This week's winner is Douglas "Wes" Chandler, who guessed "The Colonel" (Isaac) and Herbie.
I would have also accepted "Superb Herb."
Check back after the Southern Illinois road game for our next home ticket giveaway.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Here's a couple updates on former Penguins.
Running back Allen Jones, the Ursuline High graduate who transferred to Mercyhurst this summer, is coming off his best game of the season.
He carried eight times for 85 yards and two TDs in Mercyhurst's 42-3 win over Lock Haven on Saturday.
For the season, he's carried 19 times for 108 yards and two TDs.
Alos, former Penguins Stephen Meadows and Randy Louis are playing their senior seasons at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Meadows, a defensive lineman, has started all three games, making 14 tackles, including team-bests in tackles for loss (4.5) and sacks (two). He's also recovered a fumble for the Crimson Hawks, who are 1-2.
Louis, a cornerback, has appeared in two games, making four tackles and breaking up two passes.
Meadows started four games and appeared in five others last season, losing his starting DE job to Obinna Ekweremuba early in the year. Louis started eight games last fall before injuring his shoulder. Jones transferred because he was buried on the depth chart and wasn't going to get enough carries here.
I meant to pass this on earlier.
A few weeks ago, Melinda Wolford (Eric's wife) told me a story about a friend of hers who played in the band at the University of Texas. The friend loved Texas football but felt like she never got to know any of the players or the coaches and wishes she could have felt like a bigger part of the program.
So, Melinda told Eric, who decided to do something for the YSU band to show his appreciation. One day at the end of training camp, he bought 10 dozen donuts and passed them out to the band members.
He said he's planning to buy 12 dozen next year because they were running low.