By Yousof Hamza
After a disappointing 1-6 campaign during a COVID-19 shortened season, the Youngstown State University Penguins football team looks to rebound for the 2021 fall season.
Head coach Doug Phillips said the players have high expectations going into the season and feel they can physically compete with other teams.
“We’ve been taking things one day at a time,” Phillips said. “After the season last year we got to learn how to finish football games— we got to take those games over.”
Defensive back Zaire Jones said going day by day and week by week will help reach the end goal of a national championship. The senior public health major said the mentality going into the season is to finish games and to return to normalcy after last season.
“Finish and persevere through whatever adversity we’ve been through,” Jones said.
Multiple games were lost last year on close plays and the inability to close out a game.
“Coming into this season, we learned a lot of the spring season, we want to learn to finish games. There were games where we were two, three, four plays a game from sealing it,” senior linebacker Grant Dixon said.
Dixon, who wears 41 and is pursuing a masters in business administration, was an integral part of the defense last season and earned First Team All-Conference and All-Newcomer recognitions in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
Starting center Mike McAllister said the team worked hard over the summer and has high expectations for the season.
“The history of Youngstown is to win national championships, so that’s our expectation every year,” McAllister said.
He also said team activities outside of football have been great for team morale.
“You’re sitting there after practice and you think you’re going into a day of lifts and meetings and Coach Doug says, ‘Go shower and get on the busses, we’re going swimming,’” McAllister said. “It’s great for the psyches, especially on these hot days in the summer.”
Phillips said team building has been a focus during the offseason and will help on the field.
“I like seeing what our young men are like off the field,” Phillips said.
He wants players to get together outside of the football environment as it helps to bond the team and form lasting memories.
During a team scrimmage session on Aug. 20, Demeatric Crenshaw was taking the first team reps at quarterback. Crenshaw is a redshirt freshman and three-star recruit from Pickerington Central High School in Pickerington, Ohio.
Dixon wasn’t the only player to receive recognition last season. Defensive back Keyon Martin and running back Jaleel McLaughlin also received all-Newcomer recognitions. McLaughlin, offensive lineman Dan Becker and defensive back Zaire Jones received Second Team All-Conference honors. Martin, defensive lineman James Jackson and return specialist Jake Coates were Honorable Mention All-Conference.
All players honored are returning for this season except for Jake Coates who graduated. Their season kicks off against the University of the Incarnate Word Cardinals on Thursday at 7:00 p.m.
The Cardinals went 3-3 and averaged 42 points of offense during their 6 game spring season while also allowing 41.8 points per game against them. YSU allowed an average of 21.8 points while scoring an average of 15.4 points.
On Sept.11, the Penguins play at Michigan State University before heading into a bye week. After the bye week, they start conference play against Western Illinois. Then, they play the University of Northern Iowa, Missouri State University, Indiana State University, South Dakota State University, University of North Dakota, North Dakota State University and finish at Southern Illinois University.