By Cameron Niemi
Since the start of training camp, the Youngstown State University football team has been busy at Stambaugh Stadium preparing for the upcoming 2023 season. The team played in several scrimmages throughout the summer against each other.
The ‘Guins have been putting in months of preparation. The team will finally showcase all of their hard work in front of the Penguin faithful as they kick off the season at home, Aug. 31, against Valparaiso University.
Valparaiso is located in Indiana and it’s in the Pioneer Football League. YSU is 3-0 in the all-time series against Valpo. The Penguins last opened the season at home on a Thursday night back in 2021, defeating Incarnate Word.
Head coach Doug Phillips will enter his fourth season at Youngstown State. The team has high hopes to improve from last season after going 7-4 and barely missing the playoffs. The team’s returning players and coaches want to “leave no doubt” this season.
Phillips spoke on the importance of these early games and especially the home games.
“You constantly have to learn and in this league you better win your home games. No matter who you are playing,” Phillips said. “If you want a chance you gotta win your home games.”
It all starts with the leaders of the team. Four senior players were named captains for the season. Bryce Oliver, wide receiver, Quincy Lenton defensive back, quarterback Mitch Davidson and defensive end Dylan Wudke.
Davidson will lead the offense after starting the last seven games in 2022. Davidson proved himself last year, as he threw for 12 touchdowns, ran in four and threw one interception.
Davidson will have the majority of his offensive weapons back to start the season. Oliver is coming off a 10-touchdown and 821-yard season. Sophomore Max Tomczak and junior Latrell Fordham will also be important pieces to the offense this season. Senior tailback Dra Rushton is also returning in the backfield.
Returning senior tight-end Jake Benio spoke about the opener and playing at home and the importance of defending Youngstown.
“This is our home, we practice here everyday and this is where we are at, all the time. This is where just about all of us spend the majority of our time throughout the school year and even the offseason,” Benio said. “This is where we wanna be, this is our home away from home.”
The defensive line has several players returning. Wudke led the team in sacks last season and junior tackle Chris Fitzgerald will lead the charge up front. Leading tackler at the linebacker position senior Greg Benton Jr. returns, alongside juniors Alex Howard and Devin Johnson.
Last year’s leading tacklers will return on the back end, including Lenton and junior Jordan Trowers. Junior D’Marco Augustin and senior Marcus Hooker will help lead the defensive backs.
Over the summer, the All-Missouri Valley Football Conference announced its pre-season honors. The team had three players named to the first-team — Oliver, Wudke and junior offensive tackle Jaison Williams.
Tickets for the game against Valparaiso can be bought online or YSU students can get their free tickets at the stadium with a valid YSU ID. Kick off is set for 7:30 p.m at the Ice Castle.
The game can be watched on ESPN+ or listened to on 570 WKBN or iHeartRadio.