YSU football team preps for FCS Kickoff Classic

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By Dan Hiner



The helmets were passed out.

The physicals were completed.

The Youngstown State football team was back in action.

The Penguins opened camp on Saturday morning with a two-hour practice at Stambaugh Stadium.

YSU began camp earlier than in years past in preparation for the FCS Kickoff Classic. The Penguins will travel to Montgomery, Ala., to play Samford on Aug. 24.

The 2014 season was the last time the Penguins opened in August. They traveled to the University of Illinois, falling to the Illini 28-17 in the infamous “Butt Punt” game.

“I don’t think I’ve ever started in July since I left the NFL,” YSU head coach Bo Pelini said. “We play on [Aug. 24] so we’re back here a little bit early.

“But yeah, you better have a sense of urgency. We’re gonna go down there and play a good football team in the first game.”

Pelini followed up by saying he’s not concern with Samford at this point and is focusing on the team’s progress.

Naming the starting quarterback will be the first point of progress.

Nathan Mays and Joe Craycraft split first-team reps throughout practice. Former Girard quarterback Mark Waid practiced with the second team.

“[Mays and Craycraft] have been around a little bit,” Pelini said. “They’re healthy, they’re ready to go. I thought all three of them had a good first day. There’s a lot of learning and a lot of competition that needs to happen over the next couple weeks.”

Mays played in four games last season, starting once, alongside Montgomery VanGorder. Mays completed 22 of 44 passes for 304 yards and three touchdowns. He was second on the team in rushing, carrying the ball 47 times for 223 yards.

Craycraft, a sophomore, was redshirted in 2017. He appeared in the Penguins’ 42-7 win over Valparaiso last season but didn’t attempt a pass.

Craycraft and Waid split reps during the spring. Mays took graduate classes and missed practice time. Even if he could attend, he would have been limited following surgery to remove a mass below his knee.

As a result, Mays became more of a second quarterbacks coach, helping the young quarterbacks while he was healing.

“I’m sure Joe and Marky got a lot more out of it [because] I wasn’t there and they were able to get as many reps as they could,” Mays said.

Where’s Carl?

Carl Pelini didn’t have a title in the spring. He was listed as an assistant coach.

He was named associated head coach after making a living on the defensive side of the ball.

Carl will help handle the offense, allowing his brother Bo to be more hands on with the defense.

Carl said his experience as Bowling Green’s interim head coach last season helped open the door for the new position.

“I can be that one guy in the offensive meeting room that kinda talks about the defensive roles and ways we can manipulate them to get what we want offensively,” Carl said.

Smaller Quarterback Room

The Penguins fielded six quarterbacks during spring camp. In addition to competitors for the starting quarterback job, the Penguins also had Conor Collins, Mitch Davidson and Jayden Cunningham.

Cunningham is no longer with the team. Davidson is still a Penguin, but was not a camp invitee.

Slow and Steady

Bo Pelini said the team plans to bring safety Kyle Hegedus, defensive end Justus Reed and tight end Kierre Hawkins along slowly.

All three players suffered season-ending injuries in 2018, but dressed on Saturday.

Reed practiced while Hegedus and Hawkins took part in position exercises.

“They’re right on track,” Bo Pelini said. “They’re itching to go. We gotta hold ‘em back a little bit and ease ‘em into it to make sure they have their confidence. But I liked what I saw out of those guys today.”