Published April 20, 2013http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd">
When I think back on Youngstown State's 2012 spring practice, one moment sticks out. It came at the end of the spring game luncheon, when WFMJ-TV's Dana Balash asked Eric Wolford, "Do you expect to be in the playoffs next year?"
"No question," Wolford said. "No question."
I mention this because on Saturday, after the 2013 spring game, I realized I hadn't asked Wolford a single question about the playoffs during spring practice. He never brought it up. And the only time any of YSU's players talked about the playoffs was when I asked them about it.
It was a low-key, businesslike, under-the-radar kind of spring capped by a windy, cold Red-White game witnessed by 300 hearty souls in the stands (and a few hundred others in the loges).
In short, O'Douls creates a bigger buzz than YSU did this spring. And I think that's a good thing.
Wolford's confidence can be fun — especially when he gives us headline-grabbing quotes — but after three postseason-less years, he seems to understand that it often rubs fans the wrong way, especially when YSU doesn't deliver.
I wouldn't say Wolford has mellowed but he's gotten better at honing his message in the media. And, as he likes to say, "There's a standard around here. And we embrace it."
So I'll wrap up spring the same way we did last year, with the same question (which I sent via text on Saturday): Do you expect to be in the playoffs this season?
Wolford's response: "We always expect to be in the playoffs. This is Youngstown State."
I attended most of YSU's 15 spring practices and the moment that sticks out to me came after the second scrimmage, when YSU's defensive linemen were forced to walk up and down the Stambaugh Stadium steps four times — once for every offsides penalty.
Those steps are brutal, by the way, and I imagine it didn't help that offensive tackle Kyle Bryant was laughing and waving at them. (Octavius Brown, YSU's 6-foot, 300-pound defensive tackle, seemed especially miserable.)
Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Joe Tresey was (predictably) screaming at a group of defenders on the field, while
Wolford just chuckled.
"Coach Tresey's blowing a gasket," Wolford said. "It wouldn't be practice without that, would it? He needs some medicine. But it keeps me from having to yell. We've seen what happens when the head coach yells a lot."
Here are my other highlights from camp:
Most improved player — offense: WR Marcel Caver, who played sparingly as a redshirt freshman last fall but could be a big-time threat this fall. He's always had speed but he's starting to figure out how to play the position. (Honorable mention: RB Demond Hymes, who improved his blocking and seized the No. 1 spot to replace Jamaine Cook. Also, RB Adaris Bellamy looked really good before going down with a sprained AC joint.)
Most improved player — defense: I'm giving this to YSU's entire secondary, particularly cornerbacks Dale Peterman and Julius Childs. Both started every game last season but they seem to have made the jump from OK to really good.
Biggest player: Kyle Bryant, who is listed at 6-7, 320 and looks it.
Smallest player: Walk-on kicker Tyler Hogan, who is listed at 5-5, 130 and looks it.
Best beard: OT Andrew Sinko. ("He looks like an Amishman," Wolford said.)
Worst beard: OG Chris Elkins, who could get this award named after him. ("It's something that never really worked for me," he said.)
Worst mustache: OG Fred Herdman, who could get this award named after him.
Best interview: WR Christian Bryan. Insightful and honest, especially when it comes to his own performance. And he's very passionate about the game. You can tell he loves it. (Honorable mention: Kyle Bryant, DE Nate Cox.)
Interview I missed the most: OT Andrew Radakovich, who graduated. Man, I'm gonna miss that guy. He knew what to do with a funny question.
Most improved interview: Chris Elkins, who went from an F as a freshman to … well, a C-minus anyway. Good guy. Good lineman. Just doesn't have much to say.
Blandest interview: QB Kurt Hess. I'm convinced he could find something good to say about the Ebola virus. Good guy, though. Always looks on the bright side.
Worst position switch: Dante Nania, who moved to safety at the beginning of spring after two years at quarterback.
Best position switch: Nania, who moved back to quarterback after seven practices. Keep him there.
Most intriguing player: Kicker Joey Cejudo, who has a big leg. Just needs to get more consistent. (Honorable mention: RB Jordan Thompson, who was booted off the team last summer with lousy grades but attended every practice this spring. If he gets his grades in order, he could be a BIG difference-maker in the fall.)
Best nickname: "Biscuit," for Octavius Brown. I didn't get a chance to ask him how he got it, but something about it just works. (Also, when Wolford called Kurt Hess "Hester," I asked him if it was in honor of Bears kick returner Devin Hester. "Yeah," Hess said. "It's because of my versatility. I can play any position." This was as funny as any quote I've gotten from Hess in almost four years. There might be hope yet.)
Best interception return: DT D.J. Moss (5-11, 290), who picked off a tipped ball in the first scrimmage and tried to take it to the house before Wolford blew the whistle. "He doesn't have a lot of experience running with the football," Wolford said. "But I gave him the game ball, so he's all excited. That story will grow to, 'I picked off a ball in the North Dakota State game, ran it back and we won a championship.'"
Best diet: Adaris Bellamy, who dropped 13 pounds by becoming a pescetarian, a diet that eliminates red meat and poultry and keeps seafood. It emphasizes veggies.
Diet I won't be trying in this — or any other — lifetime: Pescetarianism.
Sign I'm getting old: Marcel Caver has absolutely no idea who Terry Glenn was.
Sign Wolford thinks he's getting old: He turned 42 this spring. ("I'm on the back end of this thing," he said. "I'm only going to live until about 50 or 60.")
Worst sunglasses: Wolford's. They actually had little lightning bolts on the side. ("What are those, Wal-Mart sunglasses?" safety Donald D'Alesio asked him.)
Worst injury: Bellamy's shoulder sprain. It would have been an interesting battle for the starting running back spot between him and Hymes.
Lamest injury: WR Michael Wheary, who missed a practice with an ingrown toenail.
Number of FCS playoff teams this season: 24, up from 20. (Also, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern won't be eligible since they're transitioning to the FBS.)
Excuses YSU will have if it misses the playoffs: Zero.
Finally, here are the five quotes I loved the most:
1. From Bellamy, on growing up on and off the field: "Coach [Wolford] always talks about how when you do the same thing expecting different results, you're just practicing insanity. That just stuck in my head. Everything I did before, I got the same results.
"I figured if I change it, I could get in the game more and build a better relationship with my coaches and my team. And I felt like changing would make me grow as a person on the field and in life."
2. Bryant, on "only" being 6-5 1/2 thanks to his 5-5 mother: "I get my shortness from my mom."
3. Cox, on what his junior college coach told him when he wanted to get back into football after a five-year stint in the Marines that included a five-month stint in Afghanistan: "Well, if you were able to do all that, I think I can make you into a community college football player."
4. Cox, on adjusting to civilian life after being in the military: "I'd see guys complaining that McDonald's food wasn't fast enough and I just wanted to grab somebody."
5. Wolford, on WR Andrew Williams' hometown of Bowman, S.C.: "Listen, they don't even have running water. They don't have cable. They just got the big dish. Remember those dishes from cable TV years and years ago? Those are new down there."