YSU’s Phillips remains upbeat about team’s future
BEAVER TOWNSHIP — When Doug Phillips was hired as the eighth head coach in Youngstown State University football history, all he wanted to do was get down to business and prepare his team for a new era in Penguins football and their opening game of the season.
That was Feb. 7, right before the COVID-19 pandemic turned the college football world upside down, and the Missouri Valley Football Conference, of which YSU is a member, pushed back the start of its season to February 2021.
With many teams nationally still trying to recover from the pandemic’s effects, Phillips told the Curbstone Coaches during Monday’s weekly meeting at Avion Banquet Center he continues to look for the positive while assuring fans they will be proud of the product he places on the field.
“I always try to find the positive out of something so this pandemic has at least given us a chance to build a relationship with our players,” Phillips said. “When you’re not on the road recruiting, you’ve got to make sure that academics are being taken care. They’re getting up every day and going to class, and then taking care of the football part that we needed to install.
“Whether it was with zoom meetings in April, May or June then when they got back on campus and working out, I thought we truly got to develop a foundation in building that relationship. We let them know who we are and it was also us learning about them.
“The negative is that I just haven’t seen this football team play on the field. I still haven’t seen them in full pads, haven’t seen a scrimmage and other than just seeing film from last year that’s the one thing we want to get accomplished over the next four or five weeks with fall ball.”
Phillips noted recruiting, while at a standstill, must be creative and virtual.
“Everyone focuses now on classes being full in 2021, but we’re not,” he added. “I told our coaches it’s hard to go recruit when you’ve never seen the kids live. You just haven’t seen them. So for us, we’re going to build that relationship through zoom calls, texts, phone calls and virtual tours.
“We’re going to have to sign some kids in December. We have maybe five commits. I don’t think you’ll see us sign a huge class, but we’re going to sign those that have been on our campus before. Not only that, we still must figure out roster management because we’ve got some seniors that are going to be extended a year to play. Not only can they play this spring, but if we want to bring them back in the fall then we can do so. Managing that roster is paramount. I still want to have a class of about 10 to 12 high school kids, but you still want to have some spots open whether its mid-year or in the spring. We’re very young. So for us to take a graduate transfer or maybe take a transfer in some of our position groups, then we’re going to look to do that. No matter who we get in December, those mid-year enrollees cannot play this spring. They can only play next fall so what we have is what we’re going with into the season this spring.”
Phillips is pleased with his team’s academic progress.
“We’re pleased with where we are academically,” he stated. “It’s been unusual in that the college experience right now has changed for our kids and it changed six months ago. I’m very proud to see them adapt to those changes and ‘thrYve’ through it. Remember, when we spell thrive it’s with a block ‘Y’ve.
“I’m proud and admire them because of what we’re asking them to do, whether it’s to come through and be back on campus during the pandemic, whether it’s on-line classes, how we lift or even how we go into the locker room. It’s a lot different. It’s crazy and to see the kids be able to adjust to that and adapt tells me when we get to playing on the football field then we’ll be able to do the same in a season or the same during a game.”
He said there are still many challenges ahead as they eye a mid-February start.
“We went into August, our camp got canceled and shut down, but there are four key points for us. First, how do we build a team? How do we become unselfish? How do we create a brotherhood? How do we create the love that we need to so we can get through the times we are currently facing?
“The second key piece is how are we going to deal with adversity and how are we going to be able to handle success? The adversity piece is easy because we’ve been dealing with it, but we haven’t done it on a football field. We’ve done it off the field, but how will they handle it when they get knocked down and are down seven points in the first quarter. Then, how do you handle success? Maybe we have great success? How do we come back and work after we have tremendous success? So, that’s another bullet point we have to deal with by February.
“The third key is just a history lesson. If we want to use ‘Grit U,’ what does the mean? What’s the tradition that we have here at Youngstown State University? The past history, the tradition of Youngstown, the tradition of the Mahoning Valley and the blue collar work ethic. We want our kids to understand that when you come to YSU, it’s more than just playing football, that you’ve got to buy into the Valley and who we are as a community.
“Then the last piece, which we’ve been working on the last two to three weeks is the execution. I really believe you’re going to see good special teams, turnovers, blocking and tackling.
“I think when you watch this fall, teams that succeed will be the most fundamentally sound, have the best special teams and take care of the football. Those are the four points that we are going to get across to our kids daily in our meetings and daily on the football field as we lead up to February.”
Next Monday, Dana Balash, WFMJ-TV, Channel 21 sports director will serve as guest speaker. Those interested in attending and in anticipation of a head count prior to the event, call Avion Banquet Center at 330-758-4140 or 330-550-1131 prior to Sept. 26.