Wrapping up Pelini's first spring at YSU


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by Joe Scalzo - "A blog about YSU Penguin athletics, not the insides of penguins."   | 155 entries

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A couple weeks ago, I stopped by the MVR after one of Youngstown State’s football practices to get some wedding soup when Bo Pelini — a man who will pay more in income taxes this year than I have grossed in my entire adult life — walked in wearing sweatpants. On a Friday night. At a restaurant.

I have no idea if Jim Tressel owns any sweatpants, but if he does, they have pleats.

We said hello to each other, he sat down with his family to eat and people mostly left him alone. This, to me, sums up why Pelini returned to Youngstown. When he went to the Sweet Sixteen basketball games in Cleveland, he got stuck posing for dozens of fan photos, which then bounced around the Internet. (In large part because he refused to smile.)

There, he was a celebrity, the cartoon character coach with the hair-trigger temper who rips his boss and the fans and lifts up random cats, like Rafiki from “The Lion King,” at spring games in honor of a picture from his fake Twitter account.

He’d much rather just be Bo, a regular football coach who rocks a gray-hooded sweatsuit at the spring game and a Yuengling sweatshirt and 2004-era cargo pants in his free time.

I went to a dozen of YSU’s 15 spring practices and, in every one, he carried himself like a normal coach, occasionally yelling to get his point across but mostly just teaching and observing. Eric Wolford was far crazier, especially in the early years.

“I’ve always had that kind of [combustible] reputation and people always want to find me at bad moments, but kind of with me, what you see is what you get,” Pelini said. “I’m not a guy that’s out there screaming and yelling at my football team every day. I believe if a guy is putting forth the effort, it’s our job to coach him and to teach him. There’s not a guy that’s walked out on the field that’s gone out there trying to make a mistake.

“Now, if someone has bad effort, they’re gonna get an earful. But our job is to coach these guys and make them better. And when a guy makes a mistake, we’ve got to understand why he’s made a mistake so it doesn’t happen again. You can scream and yell all you want, but most of the time, that doesn’t do any good.”

One caveat, from Pelini himself.

“Obviously when it starts for real, I get a little more fired up,” he said.

Wolford took a scorched-earth approach to his first spring, losing his temper and then voice during practices. Wolford made no secret that he wanted to shake up the program and he turned over half the roster in his first year. But while Wolford increased the tempo and the accountability, he didn’t increase the wins, particularly late in the season.

“[By the end of the season], people were basically worn out, tired,” YSU senior running back Demond Hymes said. “They wanted the season to be over. The push, the grind slowed up. They didn’t feel it no more. They wasn’t as hungry as they were in the beginning of the season. They was trying to find the easy way out, and the easy way out was they wanted to be finished with playing. It started getting cold and people didn’t really want to play in the cold.”

Pelini has been much more bland with the media, but he spends a lot more time talking about what the coaches need to do for their players than vice-versa. And while Pelini didn’t always get along with his bosses at Nebraska — not to mention the fans and the media — he didn’t have many problems with his players, something that’s continued at YSU.

“I love playing for Bo,” Hymes said. “I wish I could have played for him since my freshman year.”
Here are some of the highlights from a quiet first spring from Pelini:

Offensive standouts

When I asked Pelini to name some MVPs from the spring, he mentioned sophomore quarterback Hunter Wells and junior running back Martin Ruiz. (He likes the running backs in general, although Ryan Moore went down with an ACL and Jody Webb was injured for most of the camp.) He’s also praised WR Andre Stubbs this spring.

YSU returns eight starters on offense, so this unit is pretty set. But I like what I’ve seen from sophomore WR I’tavious Harvin. In the two scrimmages and the spring game, he made at least one eye-opening catch. He’s a playmaker. 

Defensive standouts

Pelini mentioned linebacker Lee Wright (“He probably jumps to mind the most”) as well as senior DT Steve Zaborsky, senior DE Terrell Williams, junior DE Derek Rivers and junior S Jameel Smith, who had a team-high 11 tackles in the spring game.

I was also impressed with middle linebacker Jaylin Kelly in the spring game. He made eight tackles and looked more athletic than last season.

Special teams standouts

YSU’s kickers and punters, who are all inexperienced freshmen and sophomores, had an inconsistent spring to say the least. But it was encouraging to see sophomore K Connor McFadden make a 40-yard field goal in the spring game. If he can do that consistently, that’s plenty good enough for this level.

Also, I'm interested to see what CB Kenneth Durden can do as a returner.

Best interview

Third-string quarterback Tanner Garry. No one else is even close.

Best tweet

- From Garry: “Just got done with the Phone-A-Thon. @MichaelWheary was the biggest donator with 90,000 dollars. All of it went to the courtyards though...”
Wheary got kicked off the team last season after punching a hole in the wall at an apartment complex, causing $90,000 in damage. The rule, as always, comedy equals tragedy plus time.

- Runner-up (from Garry): “I might just go to class naked, that’s how nice it is out.”

- Second runner-up (from Garry): “You know you’re in Youngstown when your dining hall has Tupac playing.”

One of the worst things about my job is following athletes on Twitter. Except for Garry.

Quotes I loved the most

- From Avery Moss, on asking his cousin (former Nebraska defensive lineman Todd Peat) about playing for defensive line coach Carl Pelini: “One of the first things I asked was, ‘Do you like him?’ He said, ‘I love him, but he’s crazy.’ And I was like, ‘Well, he’s a Pelini.’”

- From Kinston, N.C., native Derek Rivers, on Appalachian State: “Trust me, it’s two different kinds of country. My side of the state is a different kind of country. Them [in Boone] are the people you see on TV, the moonshiners and stuff.”
From Hymes, on what Pelini said to him after one scrimmage carry: “He told me I ran like a girl on one play. I told him to put his best defensive players out there and we’ll see who’s the girls.”
- From Garry, on entering the 2013 North Dakota State game in the third quarter thanks to injuries to quarterbacks Kurt Hess and Dante Nania: “They called the first play in the huddle [from the sideline] and I just blanked out. I looked at the person who called the play — I think it was Kurt Hess — and I go, ‘What?’ And everybody in the huddle just deflates. They were like, ‘Here we go.’”
(Garry ended up playing well and throwing a touchdown pass.)
- From Bo Pelini, on last year’s famous spring game cat: “The first time I laid eyes on that cat was that day. We walked out and these people were going [nuts] and I thought, ‘This thing’s gonna scratch my eyes out.’ It didn’t. I think it was a little freaked out, as I was. It wasn’t declawed, either, I can tell you that.”
- From Bo Pelini, on the program’s expectations: “Our goal is to compete for a national championship. Period. End of story. I don’t see any reason why [we can’t]. Are we ready to do that today? Absolutely not. It’s a process. If we stay with it and we’re hungry and we do the right things.”
Joe Scalzo covers YSU athletics for The Vindicator. Write to him at scalzo@vindy.com and follow him on Twitter @JoeScalzo1.

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