Ten thoughts on YSU's football team (so far)
by Joe Scalzo - "A blog about YSU Penguin athletics, not the insides of penguins." (Contact) | 155 entries
Here are 10 on YSU's first two weeks of fall camp:
1. While I was out at Poland High School to work on a football preview, Bulldogs coach Paul Hulea pointed out that in my first YSU training camp story ("Playoffs or bust"), there wasn't one word about the Penguins' first game against Dayton.
This wasn't entirely true. I quoted Kurt Hess saying they can't look ahead to Michigan State since the first game is against Dayton.
But I get his point and you can blame the media (i.e. me) for the playoff angle. I pick the questions and I pick the quotes. And as the picker, I reserve the right to ignore any and all quotes about Dayton until we get to Dayton week.
2. To me, the biggest storyline this year revolves around whether or not Eric Wolford can get the Penguins to the playoffs.
From a media standpoint, Wolford is a lot more fun to cover than Jon Heacock or Jim Tressel. But Wolford is also 16-17 in three seasons — and six of those wins have come against either non-scholarship FCS teams or partial-scholarship FCS teams.
Of course, two of those wins have also come against Pitt and North Dakota State, so it's been a mixed bag.
3. A big reason why Wolford takes away his players cellphones for the first part of training camp is because he wants them to build face-to-face relationships instead of text-to-text or tweet-to-tweet.
He thinks that's especially important in the months before camp, when coaches aren't around to hold players accountable. That philosophy led to one of my favorite quotes I've heard from him:
"In this day and age, it's not cool to call each other out," he said. "That's still needed in football. 'Hey, get your tail over to practice. You're not doing what you need to do. Get in the books, go to class tomorrow, you're going to be suspended. Get to bed.'
"That doesn't happen a lot today. You might send a text, but you can put a text down. I'm talking about getting in someone's face, eye-to-eye. Tell him, 'Hey, man, this is about a team. This is about family.'"
4. One of the reasons I enjoy interviewing WR Christian Bryan is he's one of the most honest players on the team, particularly when it comes to his own performance.
Bryan set YSU freshman records with 46 catches for 722 yards in 2011, then dropped to 30 receptions for 372 yards last fall. The biggest problem was Jelani Berassa's preseason knee injury, which forced the undersized Bryan to serve as the team's No. 1 wideout. He's better suited to the No. 2 role.
When I asked him about last season, he told me he felt he had a lot to prove because he didn't think he played very well.
"I've got a chip on my shoulder," he said. "My freshman year, of course, things went well but last year wasn't the season I expected to have. I [blame] a lot of that on my mindset. I think I was too hard on myself and I think it affected my attitude. I wasn't negative to anyone or the team, but toward myself I was. I'm so hard on myself, I started overthinking everything instead of going out and having fun. And football is supposed to be fun."
5. Following Saturday's scrimmage, YSU coach Eric Wolford said sophomore Dante Nania is the team's backup quarterback behind Kurt Hess. He then added that Nania's role would be similar to what Juice Williams did when Wolford was at Illinois and what Tim Tebow did at Florida.
Wolford has the right idea here — Nania is a good athlete and he gives YSU a running threat the other three quarterbacks on the roster don't — but there's little doubt that YSU's playoff hopes rest on Hess staying healthy.
I've been to five practices so far and Nania has struggled in all of them. One of Hess' biggest strengths is pre-snap recognition, which is why he rarely gets sacked. He knows where the ball is supposed to go and he typically gets it out quick. Nania, meanwhile, holds on to the ball too long and gets flustered when pressured.
As for the other two quarterbacks, Nick Wargo struggled in the spring but had a solid spring game. He's been OK this summer. Tanner Garry is a true freshman and I would be surprised if he doesn't redshirt.
6. Best tweet of the first two weeks? This gem from sophomore tackle Trevor Strickland just before two-a-days started: "and i thought camp sucked now...2 a days tomorrow? i feel like a 70 year old in a 20 year old body"
7. Worst tweet of the first two weeks? That goes to freshman kicker Connor McFadden, who tweeted "The grind never stops!"
I like McFadden, but if I were an offensive lineman, I think I'd be inclined to stuff him in a locker for saying that.
8. I've been encouraged by what I've seen from junior Kintrell Disher.
Disher looks like he's put on about 15 pounds of muscle since the spring, when he looked like he wasn't yet sold on moving from wide receiver to tight end.
Disher's got obvious talent but he couldn't seem to harness it enough to break into a deep and talented receiver group.
But he could end up being the next Will Shaw -- a talented athlete who finds a home at tight end.
9. Speaking of tight ends, senior Carson Sharbaugh dropped 15 pounds since the spring and looks like he's in terrific shape. He's always been a good blocker but he could become more of a receiving threat now.
Tight ends coach Mark Mangino told Sharbaugh on the first day of spring practice that he looked out of shape, which irritated him.
"I didn't agree with him," Sharbaugh said. "I was breathing heavy but so was everyone else. But Coach [Mike] Cochran really helped me and I busted my butt to slim down."
Despite the weight loss, Sharbaugh said he's stronger than he's every been.
"I feel really good," he said.
10. Odds and ends: Of the incoming freshmen, the players and coaches I've talked to have been most impressed with linebacker Jaylin Kelly, tight end Jacob Wood and running back Jody Webb. Also, offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo raved about the potential of freshman Justin Spencer (Indiana, Pa.). … That reminds me of something Bricillo once told me. "I'm a good offensive line coach and you know why? Because I'm a good recruiter." … WR Jelani Berassa, who missed last season with an ACL injury, said he was about 90 percent entering training camp. From what I've seen, he looks like he's about 80 percent compared to last summer, but, then, he looked REALLY good last summer. … Former RB Jordan Thompson told me in the spring that Berassa was one of the two or three hardest workers on the team. … CB Dale Peterman is expected to miss the first two games with a knee injury, but I like what Wolford said about him: "He's the kind of guy where you have to cut his leg off to keep him off the field. He's just a tough guy."