Published February 1, 2012
When Youngstown State won the 1991 national championship, 39 of the 90 players on the roster went to high school in Mahoning or Trumbull County.
I thought about that number on Wednesday when YSU coach Eric Wolford announced his 2012 recruiting class, which included just one player from the tri-county area: Mooney defensive lineman Austin Trgovcich.
(For a complete list of this year's class, with biographies, visit: http://ysusports.com/sports/fball/index)
Wolford did sign Hickory’s Matt Bell and offered scholarships to several standouts from Mahoning and Trumbull County who went elsewhere, but still. That’s a significant number, especially a year after he signed 12 from the Mahoning Valley. (To be fair, many of those local players earned partial scholarships.)
“I’ve come to realize that you’re going to have to recruit across the country,” Wolford said. “Ohio is over-recruited.”
Wolford believes there are more scholarship offers than scholarship players in Ohio. (He told me a few years ago he doesn’t even bother recruiting Cleveland Glenville because the school’s reputation leads to over-valued players. “We might think a player is a borderline D-I kid but, because he’s from Glenville, he’ll have an offer from the Big East,” Wolford said.)
Ohio is also a Mid-American Conference state. While Wolford isn’t afraid to recruit against schools such as Kent or Akron, he knows the lure of playing for a lower-level Division I program almost always trumps a chance to play for an FCS title contender. So, he’s broadened his scope, working the high school contacts he and his staff have picked up over the years.
“We’re going to recruit to our standard and our standard is winning championships,” said Wolford. “If we’re going to play [FCS champion] North Dakota State or Northern Iowa, we’d better be recruiting a high-level player.”
That doesn’t mean Wolford will ignore the Mahoning Valley or northeast Ohio (three of his recruits were from either the Akron or Cleveland area), just that he’s going to choose talent over geography.
“From year to year, it fluctuates,” Wolford said. “How many guys from [the Valley] are bona fide Division I players this year? We’re a Division I school. We’ve got to recruit Division I players.”
Twenty years ago, Youngstown had five high schools: Rayen, Wilson, Chaney, East and South. Now there are two and only one, East, has a football team.
Youngstown still produces plenty of good football players — that’s obvious on Friday nights — but it produces fewer college football players. When Wolford graduated from Ursuline in 1989, he said there were nine Division I players in that class.
“Were there nine Division I football players [in the Valley] this year?” he said. “We don’t have the same population we used to have. We’re making a comeback but we don’t have the same population to pull from.
“We’ve got to take the best player, whether he’s in Miami or he’s in Cleveland.”
Other thoughts from Signing Day:
1. Wolford signed 35 last February, a massive class designed to fill in some of the holes left by his small 2010 class and the large number of departures in his first year.
Four true freshmen from that class started at least one game and Wolford played 21 newcomers last fall, whether they were true freshmen, redshirt freshmen or transfers.
Wolford doesn't expect this year's class to have the same impact because so many (10) are lineman, who generally need a few years to develop.
This is a good sign. The best programs are able to redshirt all but the most talented freshmen. YSU is getting closer to that point.
2. Wolford said he signed 26 of the 29 players who visited campus, crediting the school's facilities, environment and staff, including president Cynthia Anderson, who has breakfast with recruits.
"I had a conversation with a kid last night and he said, 'Coach, it was really neat to be able to sit with the president for breakfast and have a conversation with her. I don't think I really appreciated that until I left campus."
Needless to say, this doesn't happen at most schools.
3. Spring practice will begin March 21 with the spring game scheduled for April 13, which is a Friday night.
If the weather stinks -- and it did for last year's Saturday afternoon game, raining throughout -- Wolford said they'll move it to noon on Saturday, April 14.