Published August 2, 2013
One of the things I've learned in my 3 1/2 years covering Eric Wolford is this: I have absolutely no idea what his team is going to do. In his first season, he went 3-8 and somehow made every game entertaining. (And maddening.)
Two years ago, YSU somehow managed to beat the No. 1 team in the country (and eventual national champions), only to return home the next week and blow a 17-point halftime lead to Missouri State.
Last year, the Penguins beat Pitt and UNI en route to a 4-0 September, then opened an 0-for-October with a 41-point loss to North Dakota State that felt so much worse.
Now entering the fourth year (of a five-year contract), Wolford probably has his deepest and most talented team. It's a team that should win at least eight games (and one I think will go 9-3, with losses to NDSU, South Dakota State and Michigan State) but, well, who knows?
"I think it's pretty easy to see, without being cocky or arrogant, that we look significantly different than we did four years ago," Wolford said. "We look probably as good as anybody."
Will they play as well as anybody? We'll find out soon enough. Until then, here's my take on the roster heading into fall camp. (Note: Starters based on the depth chart after spring camp.)
Starters returning: Six
Lettermen returning: 20
Starter: Senior Kurt Hess
Other returners: Sophomore Dante Nania, redshirt freshman Nick Wargo, redshirt freshman Tanner Garry
Newcomer: Freshman Ricky Davis
Outlook: After a so-so 2012, I'd be surprised if Hess doesn't have a big fall. He looked sharp in the spring and he's got a lot of weapons around him. Losing Patrick Angle (who transferred to Ohio Northern) leaves YSU thin at this position. Wargo looked good in the spring game but struggled for much of camp. Nania is a talented athlete who is a threat to run or throw but still needs to improve his overall command of the offense.
Starter: Sophomore Demond Hymes
Other returners: Senior Torrian Pace, senior Adaris Bellamy, junior Parnell Taylor, sophomore John Medina
Newcomers: Redshirt freshman Jody Webb, freshman Martin Ruiz, freshman Darin Franklin, freshman Ian Banks-Tillman, freshman Ryan Mosora
Outlook: Losing Jamaine Cook (who had three straight 1,000-yard seasons) is a big blow but Hymes gives the Penguins a big-play dimension that the steady Cook didn't have. Bellamy looked terrific in spring before spraining his AC joint. He needs to prove he can stay healthy. Pace is a solid short-yardage back who looked good in the spring until tweaking his ankle.
Starters: Senior TE Carson Sharbaugh, junior TE Nate Adams, junior WR Jelani Berassa, junior WR Christian Bryan, sophomore WR Andre Stubbs, sophomore WR Andrew Williams
Other returners: Junior TE Kintrell Disher, senior WR Kevin Watts, sophomore WR Marcel Caver, sophomore WR Michael Wheary, sophomore WR Justin Getz
Newcomers: Freshman TE Jacob Wood, freshman TE Corey Henry, sophomore WR Ed Killingsworth, freshman WR Derrick Burgess, freshman WR Anthony Marchionda
Outlook: YSU lost TE Will Shaw, who led the team in most receiving categories, but look for Adams to put up some good numbers. If Berassa can return to form (he looked dominant last summer before tearing his ACL), this could be the strength of the team. Bryan will benefit from not having to carry the load of being the No. 1 receiver, Williams came on strong at the end of last season and Caver had a breakout spring. Watts was the star of the spring game. Sharbaugh is a strong blocker and one of the team's best leaders.
Starters: Senior C Chris Elkins, senior G Fred Herdman, senior T Kyle Bryant, sophomore T Trevor Strickland, redshirt freshman Brock Eisenhuth
Other returners: Senior T Andrew Sinko, junior C Stephen Page, junior G Dana Harris, redshirt freshman T Christian Wilson, redshirt freshman G Matt Bell, redshirt freshman C Mason Giacomelli, redshirt freshman T Dylan Colucci
Newcomers: Freshman G Anthony Parente, freshman T Justin Spencer, freshman C Dylan Greenberg, freshman G Cole Newsome
Outlook: The Penguins lost four starters to graduation (although Bryant stepped in during the second half of last season when Andrew Radakovich got injured) but Wolford has consistently praised this unit's performance and potential. (And Wolford almost never praises his line.) What the line lacks in experience it makes up in talent.
Starters returning: seven
Letterwinners returning: 18
Starters: Junior DE Vince Coleman, junior DT Octavius Brown, sophomore DE Terrell Williams, sophomore DT Steve Zaborsky, sophomore DE Eric Myers
Other returnees: Senior DE Kyle Sirl, senior DT D.J. Moss, sophomore DT Emmanuel Kromah, redshirt freshman DE Joshmere Dawson, redshirt freshman DE Chavien Nolcox, freshman DE Derek Rivers (early enrollee who participated in spring camp)
Newcomers: Junior DE Desmond Williams, freshman DT Rickey Hagood II, freshman DE Fazson Chapman
Outlook: Sirl, the only line's only returning starter, sat out spring practice with an injury but played well in 2012, racking up 6.5 tackles for loss in just nine games (six starts). Losing DT Aronde Stanton hurts but there's a good mix of young talent and intriguing transfers here. If this unit can get pressure — something that didn't happen often enough last year — it could take some heat off the secondary.
Starters: Senior Dom Rich, junior Travis Williams, junior Teven Williams
Other returners: Senior Ali Cheaib, sophomore Dubem Nwadiogbu, sophomore Terry Johnson, sophomore Kevon Caffey
Newcomers: Freshman B.J. Welch, freshman Jaylin Kelly, freshman Cole Kochman, freshman Derek Sulick, freshman Rhamir Thomas, freshman Mike Palumbo
Outlook: The two Williamses enter their third seasons as starters and need to take a step forward. They didn't play well enough in 2012. Rich is a solid run-stuffer and a terrific leader. He'll come out on passing downs. Nwadiogbu started early in 2012 before suffering a season-ending ACL injury. He had a quiet spring camp. Look for defensive coordinator Joe Tresey to get more creative with this unit, particularly with blitzes.
Starters: Senior CB Dale Peterman, junior CB Julius Childs, junior CB Jamarious Boatwright (nickel), junior FS Donald D'Alesio, redshirt freshman SS Jameel Smith
Other returners: Senior FS Josh Garner, redshirt freshman CB Deion Hall (moved from RB)
Newcomers: Junior FS Justin Gallegos, sophomore CB John James, sophomore FS Tre' Moore, redshirt freshman CB David Rivers, freshman CB Eric Thompson, freshman CB Damarius Brinson Jr., freshman SS Kenny Bishop, freshman FS Grant Mercer
Outlook: This should be the most improved unit on the team. Peterman and Childs looked good in spring camp and Smith looks like he could be the answer at strong safety. D'Alesio has a ton of experience and a ton of respect in the locker room.
Starters: Senior P Nick Liste, junior K Joey Cejudo, junior LS Nathan Gibbs
Newcomer: Freshman K Connor McFadden.
Outlook: Liste is steady as they come. Cejudo showed off a big leg during the spring and might actually tempt Wolford into attempting a couple field goals this year. You never heard (or read) a thing about Gibbs, which is good. You don't want to hear about long snappers. YSU still needs to improve its return and coverage units, which will be the main challenge of new coordinator Jamie Bryant.