Sitting in the team classroom at Stambaugh Stadium, members of the Youngstown State University football team voted for captains on Sunday.
The race was on. Each player votes for two offensive players and two defensive. Players can vote for themselves and coaches do not participate.
After a day of counting, the Penguins announced their 2013 captains Tuesday. It is a nail-biting, down-to-the-wire race where four players are named. But this year was unique. Five guys received more than 40 votes. Head Coach Eric Wolford decided to keep the extra player and have five captains when YSU opens the season against the University of Dayton on Thursday.
“We’ve got to wrap our arms around these guys and take them where we want to go,” senior Dom Rich said.
The senior quarterback broke the school record when he was named a captain for the third straight season and nobody was surprised, not even Hess.
“I was a little bit nervous, but I kind of just expected it,” he said. “I’ve been a leader all through training camp, I’ve been a leader all summer, and I hope that my team saw that. I’m glad that they picked me with the other guys because they’re all great leaders.”
The fourth-year starter threw for 2,112 yards last year — the lowest in his career, 15 touchdowns and a career-low seven interceptions. In three seasons, Hess has compiled 6,697 yards — second in team history, 53 touchdowns (first), 23 interceptions and has not missed a game.
He also ranks first with 202.9 passing yards per game, a 141.78 passer rating and 18 200-yard passing games.
“That’s another one of his records, but Kurt will be the first to tell you that the only thing he’s worried about is postseason and championships,” Wolford said. “All of that stuff is great. You can talk about it when you’re 80 or 90, but Kurt wants to be in postseason play. He knows his career will be defined by getting us back to postseason play and championship play.”
It should be no surprise that the senior receiver is a captain, even though he missed all of 2012 with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
“Jelani’s always been a leader,” Wolford said. “When we lost him last year, it was a significant loss. We didn’t want to make that public necessarily, but he’s the heart and soul of that group right there. He’s been around a long time; he’s kind of like the grandpa.”
In 2011, Berassa caught 41 passes for 552 yards and eight touchdowns. He has 600 receiving yards and 41 receptions in his career.
After practice on Wednesday, Berassa said he feels no pain in his leg and will be ready for the season opener.
“I’m still making progress as the season goes on,” he said. “I’m going to keep on making progress. I’m going to keep on rehabbing. It’s pretty good.”
When Hess and Berassa were announced as the first two offensive captains, the senior center didn’t think he had a chance.
“I really wanted it,” Elkins said. “I was really nervous because we’ve only had four captains. Coach announced Kurt and J.B. first, and I was like ‘Wow. That really sucks.’ But it worked out all right.”
In 2012, Elkins was the lone YSU player to be named first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference and the first since Brad Samsa in 2008. He started all 11 games at right guard and played every MVFC snap in seven of eight games.
“We played him when he was a 250-lb. freshman out of Beaver Falls, and [I am] just proud of him,” Wolford said. “Nothing’s ever been handed to Chris. He’s a preseason All-American, and you wouldn’t know it by the way he acts or the things he does. He’s bashful, but he’s a great kid. Chris Elkins is going to be a success.”
Although Elkins is the center for the Penguins, he didn’t feel that way when his name was announced.
“It was really calm,” he said. “We all got called up in front of the class. I kind of just zoned out. I don’t like being the center of attention.”
The senior linebacker enters his second season as a YSU captain, and this year means more than last.
“I was a captain last year as a junior, but this year being my senior year, that makes me more excited because it’s my last year,” Rich said. “I feel like me and these other guys have a real chance to lead these guys because we’ve been with the program for a while.”
Rich played three games in 2011 due to an injury but came back strong last year. He was named the HBK Special Teams Player of the Game in the 2011 season opener at Michigan State University. In 2012, Rich compiled 17 total tackles, nine solo and 2.5 tackles for a loss.
“Plagued by injuries early in his career,” Wolford said. “He worked, worked and worked at it. He persevered, and now all of a sudden he’s a captain on our football team.”
Rich said it is an honor being a captain again and takes pride in the fact that his teammates trust him.
The fifth and final captain, Donald D’Alesio, is the only non-senior in junior strong safety Donald D’Alesio. He joins Rich as a defensive captain, a player D’Alesio looks up to.
“Those guys are going to look up to us,” D’Alesio said. “Dom was a captain last year. I know that I look up to him more than maybe some other guys on the team. We definitely have extra work to do.”
D’Alesio played all 11 games as a freshman in 2010 and made seven starts at safety. He compiled 69 total tackles and 41 solo tackles.
He started the first three games in 2011 before suffering a season-ending shoulder surgery. D’Alesio was granted a medical redshirt and started all 11 games at free safety as a sophomore last year. He finished with 38 total tackles with 19 solos and 19 assists.
“He’s basically another coach on the field,” Wolford said. “He’s very well received by young kids because he knows what he’s doing (and) knows where everybody needs to be.”