By Chris McBride
After a season that saw twenty seniors bear the Y on their chest one last time, the Youngstown State University football team will enter the 2018 season with a new look. As the saying goes with this Penguins group: “Next man up.”
With spring practices done and over with, the coaching staff has had time to get an overview of how the teams will look position by position.
Looking at offense, the most debated position of last season without doubt was the quarterback position. Nathan Mays started five games and played in eight last season. In those games, Mays completed 75 of 113 passes for four touchdowns with a lone interception. He also managed to rush for 317 yards on 77 carries resulting in four more TDs.
The starter remains undisclosed but coaches got good looks on Notre Dame graduate transfer Montgomery VanGorder, and redshirt freshmen Joe Craycraft and Conor Collins.
Arguably the deepest position for YSU will be at the tailback position. First-Team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection Tevin McCaster will lead the pack this season. McCaster rushed for 1,000+ yards for 13 end zone trips.
Sophomore Christian Turner who turned in an impressive freshman performance returns as well. Junior Joe Alessi, who contributed in crucial plays as a backup and special teamer, will be looking to do more of the same.
Also adding to the depth will be Devon McNutt and London Pearson with redshirt freshmen Jaylen Hewlett and Braxton Chapman.
At tight end, there are big shoes to fill left by Kevin Rader and Shane Kuhn, as senior Chris Durkin is the lone tight end that saw playing time. Joining him will be a pair of redshirt freshmen in Josh Burgett and Miles Joiner along with Ohio State University transfer Kierre Hawkins.
The wide receiver position will see plenty of fresh faces this season. A familiar name returning will be Samuel St. Surin. The only other receiver to see minutes will be Jeremiah Braswell who came to the program in 2016.
The two will take the leadership role in guiding an inexperienced group of receivers.
That group will include Darius Shackleford, Donovan McWilson, Ryan Emans and Zack Torbert all looking to make an quick impact on the team. The Penguins, in 2017, redshirted Colby Cooper, Jake Cummings and Thomas Joffray.
No matter who is taking the snaps next year, the offensive line will be an essential part of keeping the QB safe. The Penguins will have plenty of experience up the middle with left guard Gavin Wiggins and Vitas Hrynkiewicz at center looking to lead the line. Joining the fray will be Connor Sharp and Jacob Zinni.
While many new faces will be integrated into the offense and defense, several players will also be entering their senior year.
On the other side of the ball, the defensive line will feature four seniors, Justus Reed, Savon Smith, Lamont Ragland and Johnson Louigene. Reed is coming off an impressive year in which he tied the team lead with five sacks in only seven games.
The reserves will feature Shereif Bynum, Ma’lik Richmond, Wesley Thompson. Tommy McCraw, Justin Metzel, Jason Sims and Steven Pappadakes. The Penguins redshirted James Johnson, Antoine Cook, Donovan Turney and Fred Hicks last season.
Linebackers will be headlined by senior Armand Dellovade, a second-team All-MVFC pick in 2017 with 38 games played in his three-year tenure. He’ll have help leading the way with a trio of juniors Christiaan Randall-Posey, Curtis Parks and Cash Mitchell.
YSU will have some returns in the secondary with starting cornerback Bryce Gibson and starting free safety Kyle Hegedus. Hegedus, despite only starting in the final ten games of last season, managed to end the season ranked third on the team with 74 tackles.
At cornerback, DJ Smalls, Crispin Lee, Darius Hall, Will Latham and redshirt freshmen Melvin Jackson.
At safety, Deshon Taylor, Mike Nash, Sam McGuigan, Daniel Kwarteng and redshirt freshmen Nick Freiwald will also be eligible for play.
Rounding out the roster on special teams will three returning kickers Punter Mark Schuler, placekicker Zak Kennedy and Colin Burdette.
Every side of the ball was said to have had an impressive showing during Spring Drills. The Penguins will begin their 2018 season Sept 1, against Butler University in Stambaugh Stadium.