YSU retools defensive front

Boardman’s Thompson expected to be defensive leader

By Dan Hiner



After a year of turmoil, the Youngstown State football team’s defense is rebuilding, starting up front.

The Penguins lost starting end Justus Reed to a torn Achilles’ tendon prior to last season and YSU also dealt with the suspension of Richard McNutt and the loss of Carl Pelini, who took a job at Bowling Green.

Now Carl is back on his brother Bo’s YSU coaching staff, McNutt has resigned and veteran assistant Ron Stoops has retired.

Boardman graduate Wesley Thompson, now a junior, believes the defense is starting to regain its pervious form from his freshman year.

“It was definitely an adjustment not having Carl around, and then obviously McNutt was gone for a little while for the beginning of the season,” Thompson said. “It took some time to adjust. Now, for me at least after spending my time in the system, it’s starting to go back to normal.”

The Penguins lost Savon Smith and Lamont Ragland to graduation, leaving a hole at defensive tackle.

Smith recorded 34 tackles, 81/2 for loss, along with six sacks and six quarterback hurries. Smith had 109 career tackles in 43 games. Johnson made nine stops as a reserve last season.

Thompson started last year alongside Smith. Other than Thompson, the rest of the defensive tackles include two sophomores and three red-shirt freshmen — Dontae Cilenti, Derek Hite and Cardinal Mooney graduate Vinny Gentile.

“We have our three D-ends coming back — Justus, Shereif [Bynum] and Ma’lik [Richmond],” Thompson said. “It’s honestly kind of weird for me, being the only one coming back with any experience. We got a lot of young guys at other positions and we’re just trying to find a No. 2 [defensive tackle]. They’ve really been trying to tune in, but it’s been rough because they’re young.”

Donald D’Alesio, YSU’s defensive coordinator and defensive line coach, said Thompson will have to step up and become the leader of the interior linemen.

“[Thompson] probably went from one of the youngest guys to the oldest guy inside in my room real quick,” D’Alesio said. “Wes had a great year last year and we’re expecting the same thing out of him.”

Reshirt freshman DeMarko Craig Jr. has been taking first-team reps opposite Thompson. Craig could have played last season, but YSU had depth at the tackle position with Ragland and Johnson Louigene.

“We didn’t want to waste that year with DeMarko,” D’Alesio said. “He’s ready to play. These last two days he’s been a dominant force in there.”

Gentile, Hite, Cilenti and sophomore Donovan Turney are competing to add depth along the interior.

Bynum recorded 34 tackles, 111/2 for loss, and four sacks last season at defensive end. Richmond didn’t start last year, but played in all 11 games. He recorded 24 tackles and three sacks.

Reed had 15 tackles and five sacks in seven games in 2017. He received a medical redshirt after getting injured over the summer in 2018.

Reed won’t work out with the team during spring camp. He is participating in individual and team drills. On Monday, Bo Pelini said Reed and other injured players will be held out until August.

“It’s a great opportunity for thee other guys who haven’t played as much football as he has — to get comfortable, get their feet wet because for of those guys, especially inside, this is going to be their first college football experience,” D’Alesio said. “I’m older outside on end but inside, those young defensive tackles, this spring ball and fall camp will be really good for them to get their feet wet.”

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