Published April 26, 2014
In 2010, the last time Youngstown State had a quarterback competition, then-redshirt freshman Kurt Hess beat out then-junior Marc Kanetsky for the starting position, capping a strong spring by completing 19 of 23 passes for 256 yards and two TDs in the spring game.
(YSU had two other QB candidates that spring: Gannon Hulea, who soon moved to safety, and early-enrollee Meiko Locksley, who lasted two weeks before leaving the team.)
New offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery really liked Hess, but the coaches felt they needed someone to push Hess in the summer. So they brought in a transfer from Purdue named Najee Tyler, who had an NFL-level arm and NFL-level size (6-5, 240).
As it turns out, Tyler also had a junior varsity-level grasp of the position, but no one knew that at the time. (Including me. Before training camp, I handicapped the quarterback race in our newspaper and put Tyler at No. 1. Midway through the first week, I realized, "I got snookered." He ended up transferring to Division II-Hampton, where he was converted to tight end.)
I mention this because, four years later, YSU's best quarterback candidate may again be a redshirt freshman: Ricky Davis.
Junior Dante Nania (who started the spring game) and Davis are 1-2 on YSU's depth chart following spring practice. Both played well in the spring game (outside of a Nania interception on the first series) and the Penguins may end up playing both over the first month of the season. But at 6-foot-3, Davis is three inches taller than Nania, with a stronger arm and more upside. YSU coach Eric Wolford said they're pretty equal heading into the summer, and that he may end up playing both quarterbacks in the regular season.
That's fine. With an opener at Illinois, followed by three ho-hum games against Duquesne, Butler and St. Francis, there's no rush.
But I have a feeling Davis will be the starter by the end of the season. They just need Nania to push him.
Before the spring game, I ranked YSU's four strongest units like this: 1. Running backs, 2. defensive line, 3. wide receivers/tight ends, 4. Linebackers.
I ranked the four biggest question marks like this: 1. Quarterbacks, 2. offensive line, 3. secondary, 4. special teams.
But after watching the starting offense torch the starting defense, I'd put the linebackers and the secondary as the two biggest concerns.
The story all spring was how YSU's defense was dominating the offense, but I've heard that story before. Until YSU's defense performs under the lights, what it does during practice won't matter.
Here's how the starting lineups looked at Friday's spring game:
QB — Dante Nania (6-0, 205), Jr.
RB — Martin Ruiz (5-11, 195), So.
WR — Andre Stubbs (5-7, 165), Jr.
WR — Jelani Berassa (6-4, 210), Sr.
WR — Andrew Williams (6-4, 185), Jr.
TE — Nate Adams (6-5, 240), Sr.
LT — Trevor Strickland (6-7, 300), Jr.
LG — Dylan Colucci (6-6, 315), So.
C — Stephen Page (6-4, 300), Sr.
RG — Brock Eisenhuth (6-5, 315), So.
RT — Justin Spencer (6-5, 290), RFr.
DE — Derek Rivers (6-5, 235), So.
DT — Emmanuel Kromah (6-2, 280), Jr.
DT — Steve Zaborsky (6-2, 270), Jr.
DE — Vince Coleman (6-3, 245), Sr.
LB — Travis Williams (6-3, 225), Sr.
LB — Jaylin Kelly (6-1, 230), So.
NB — Julius Childs (6-0, 185), Sr.
CB — Eric Thompson (6-0, 190), So.
CB — Kenny Bishop (6-0, 180), So.
S — Kevon Caffey (5-10, 205), Jr.
S — Jameel Smith (6-0, 205), So.
My thoughts: Caffey will likely move back to linebacker once senior safety Donald D'Alesio returns. (He missed spring practice with a shoulder injury.) YSU is deep at running back (backup Jody Webb was easily the spring game MVP) and receiver, and has a good second tight end in Jacob Wood. The offensive line is really young, but there's some promising talent there. Depth is a big concern. Defensively, the line should be solid but the linebackers and defensive backs are very iffy. As for the specialists, Joey Cejudo is a good kicker but he averaged less than 33 yards a punt with no rush on Friday. That needs to improve.
I asked Wolford after Friday's game to list his offensive and defensive MVPs from spring. Here's what he said:
"Defensively, I'm really happy with Julius Childs and Vince Coleman as far as just stepping up and being those leadership-type [guys]. On the offensive side of the ball, there's a group of guys. [Senior wide receiver] Christian Bryan, he's a guy that maybe has not got a lot of flash but he's done a great job for us, just with his day-to-day work ethic and his approach. Tight end-wise, Nate Adams has done a good job. Stephen Page has been very consistent also. And Jelani Berassa."
In case you're wondering, Wolford has still not signed his contract extension. I checked with YSU on Thursday. As I previously reported, he'll get a two-year extension through the 2016 season.
Wolford keeps pushing the spring game back in hopes of getting better weather. It's not working.
Here's a look at each of his five games:
April 10, 2010: Sunny and clear, 52 degrees for a 12:05 p.m. start.
April 16, 2011: Rain, 52 degrees for a 12:05 p.m. start.
April 13, 2012: Partly cloudy, 55 degrees for a 7:35 p.m. start.
April 19, 2013: Overcast, chilly, 45 degrees for a 7:30 p.m. start.
April 25, 2014: Cloudy, 49 degrees for a 7 p.m. start.
I was on the field at the end of last night's game and a stiff breeze made it feel like the mid-30s. I think they're better off moving the spring game back to a noon kickoff on Saturday.
YSU again did a "Mic'd up" feature on its website (ysusports.com), recording most of the assistant coaches for two-minute clips. While you can watch them all online, I only recommend two: defensive line coach Tom Sims (who is usually just so-so in interviews but is hilarious when he's coaching) and offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo (who is often hilarious in interviews).
The Bricillo clip starts off with him telling Trevor Strickland about wearing a microphone.
"Don't worry Trevor, when the bullets start flying, the mic will be off, so I'll be able to coach you the way I usually coach you, which is hard and with lots of tender-loving care," he said.
There's also a scene where Guns N Roses' "Paradise City" is playing and he tells Johnstown, Pa., native Brock Eisenhuth, "They must've got this off of my iPod. You know [they play] this tune down in Johnstown off the beds of pickups."
This will likely be my last YSU football blog for a while. See everybody in August.