By Marc Weems
With football almost back into full swing, the Youngstown State University football team will have some holes to fill. After both Martin Ruiz and Jody Webb graduated, the Penguins are now looking to the next man up.
Returning players, Tevin McCaster and Joe Alessi, combined for 861 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.
“Chemistry is very important. One thing that you see with running backs is that there isn’t a huge core of chemistry because one guy plays 90 percent of the time,” YSU Running Backs Coach Nic McKissic-Luke said. “They are all competing for one spot so they all battle each other. But, they are one unit. They are very close together and that brings everybody else up. That makes everyone else feel better. They all show support for each other and the rest of the team.”
He also said that having so many options at the position allows some weight to be taken off his shoulders.
McCaster was a huge part of YSU’s road victory at Eastern Washington University in the FCS playoffs. McCaster ran 29 times for 154 yards and three touchdowns.
“We’ve done a lot this summer,” McCaster said. “Me and Joe (Alessi) are coming with our experience. Then you have London Pearson, Christian (Turner), Devon McNutt and even three more freshmen coming in as well. I’m the captain of the group and I work very hard. I do my best to lead by example and everyone can follow suit.”
Alessi spent much of his time as a special teams player. He had one shining moment when he rushed for 190 yards on just seven carries. He also scored two touchdowns.
“This is awesome. Communication is key,” Alessi said. “The better we communicate, the better we will be. Everything now is practice, practice, practice. It’s all about cutting down on mental errors. We learned quite a lot from Jody and Martin. They did a great job teaching us so we are ready to be playing.”
Last season, Webb and Ruiz combined for 2,495 rushing yards and 19 TD’s. YSU will have to replace both of those styles of play.
“At the end of the day, somebody [has] got to step up,” McKissic-Luke said. “Tevin played a lot last year. Losing Martin and Jody is huge and it’s tough to say how to replace them with all their productivity. With Tevin and Christian, who has that Jody mode? Turner has all the same skills that Jody has. He can run, catch and block. Joe also brings some of that stuff. London will also be important.”
McKissic-Luke also said that versatility at the running back position is super important. He believes that every back should be a complete running back to help a team grow.
With three freshmen running backs on the roster in Braxton Chapman, Christian Turner and Jaylen Hewlett, YSU has a lot to do with that position.
“It’s going to come with experience and getting in the playbooks, which is really good,” McCaster said.
“Getting them into the groove as far as the season, it’s wait and see,” McKissic-Luke said. “We have to make sure that they are picking up on everything. Throughout camp, Turner has made a lot of plays. He’s a guy that’s going to play a lot for us. Braxton Chapman is a guy we are really high on. He came in off a torn ACL and is really now starting to get going. He’s gonna be special because he’s a real downhill back. Hewlett will be like Chapman without the explosiveness. This will be a special group for sure.”
YSU starts the season at the University of Pittsburgh on Sept. 2.