Poking through gray skies late Saturday morning, the sun shined down on Stambaugh Stadium, giving the Youngstown State University football team some warmth during its first spring practice.
For the brief five minutes, jerseys glistened. Numbers embodied the players. No. 12 shined once again as it has for the past four seasons. But this time, it wasn’t Kurt Hess.
“It’s a little different not having Kurt out here leading the practice and leading the offense,” senior receiver Jelani Berassa said.
Sophomore safety Kenny Bishop sported the number. Although he always wore No. 12 last year, everybody knows that that belongs to Hess. The biggest question heading into the season is who will be his replacement.
“I think the first thing that is glaring is when you watch all those guys out there, they have a live arm,” head coach Eric Wolford said. “They all have zip on the football, and they can all zip the ball pretty well.”
Obviously, Wolford isn’t going to decide the starter for the season during the first day of spring practice. Instead, he’ll utilize the next month searching for the possible future.
“It’s going to be a very interesting spring,” Wolford said. “Is it going to be resolved by the end of spring? I don’t know. We are going to find a guy who can manage the game.”
Some potential replacements for Hess at quarterback are junior Dante Nania, who had 180 passing yards last season on 20 attempts, sophomore Tanner Garry, who had 10 pass attempts last season with a touchdown and an interception, freshman Ricky Davis and sophomore Nick Wargo.
Even though the quarterback spot is a huge question, the four possible candidates will throw to familiar targets. The Penguins have returned all their top three wide outs from last season.
Junior Andrew Williams had 395 yards receiving and two touchdowns on 26 receptions. Marcel Carver had 393 yards and three touchdowns on 21 receptions. Andre Stubbs hauled in five touchdowns and 359 yards on 29 receptions.
The Penguins also return six-year senior Berassa after being granted another year for medical reasons. Berassa had a bit of a down year with six receptions, 74 receiving yards and one touchdown.
Even though his knee injuries have bugged him in the past, one of last season’s team captains feels healthier then in past years.
“Unfortunately last year, it took so long for him to really get back to where he once was,” Wolford said. “He has leadership abilities. We have high expectations for him.”
Berassa said he feels his body getting back to full strength.
“In the offseason, I have been working on my leg strength and total body strength, so I am feeling pretty good,” Berassa said.
Last season would have been frustrating for most players that were in Berassa’s situation, but he didn’t mind it because a team player just wants its team to win.
“Last fall was an exciting season. I was just happy we were winning because I am a team player first,” Berassa said. “But my role was cut down a little bit because I was still getting healthy.”
This season is a different story and a healthier beginning for the veteran receiver. He seemed pretty healthy during the first practice, he moved smoother and seemed quicker off the ball.
Berassa appears to enjoy the intensity, which his new position coach, Kenny Carter, brings. Carter is from the University of Louisville, which won two bowl games (one BCS bowl) in the last two seasons.
“He coaches every little thing we do, which is only going to make us better players,” Berassa said. “He pushes us to the limit, which is what we need.”
The Penguins will continue to search for a starting quarterback and build more team chemistry in the upcoming months. For now, it is back to the gridiron for YSU.