Penguin Preview: Football returns to the Ice Castle

The football team practices ahead of its season opener Sept. 3 versus Duquesne University. Photo by Kyle Wills / The Jambar

By Kyle Wills

In search of its first winning season since 2017, the Youngstown State University football team looks to turn the program around in 2022 with numerous impactful players returning from last year.

With only four victories in the last two seasons, the Penguins aim to break the .500 mark for the first time since its 6-5 campaign.

Third-year head coach Doug Phillips is excited to get the season underway after a year’s worth of hard work.

“This is what you work for. You get 11 guaranteed football games, you work all year for those 11 guaranteed. You can’t take it for granted. This is why we put the time in this off-season. This is why we put the time in during the summer time — to play this season,” Phillips said.

Senior defensive end James Jackson shares the same excitement and is ready to get back on the field.

“I can’t wait. It’s been a long process. We’ve been working hard through the winter and fall camp, so I can’t wait to get out there and show what we can do,” Jackson said.

Offensively, Youngstown State will welcome back its leading rusher from 2021, senior Jaleel McLaughlin, as well as last year’s starting quarterback, sophomore Demeatric Crenshaw. 

The lead back had a monumental season on the ground, rushing for over 1,139 yards while scoring 12 touchdowns. He is the active career NCAA leader in attempts, touchdowns and yards, and is up to 14th place on the all-time list in NCAA history. He was also named to the Walter Payton Award Watch List.

Crenshaw was also a force on the ground, running for 599 yards and seven touchdowns. He also showed glimpses of his potential in-the-air attack, completing 62.2% of his passes for 791 yards and 6 touchdowns.

Crenshaw will look to improve upon his first campaign as starter with the return of his favorite redzone target, junior Bryce Oliver. Oliver finished last season scoring eight touchdowns while collecting 266 yards in his first year as a Penguin after transferring from the University of Kentucky.

Defensively, YSU will need to replace its top two tacklers from 2021 who made a combined 118 tackles. However, junior linebacker Griffin Hoak will look to stabilize the defense after finishing last year with 47 tackles, three tackles for loss and leading the team with four sacks. 

James Jackson will also return to the field for Youngstown State after finishing last year with 21 tackles in 10 starts at defensive end. He was also an Honorable-Mention All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection following the 2021 spring season. 

Also returning to the defensive line is sophomore defensive tackle Chris Fitzgerald who started all 10 games last year, recording 29 tackles and a sack.

Jackson said the team’s chemistry this year has improved from past seasons.

“I feel a different type of brotherhood. I feel a lot of unselfishness and all of our attention is on going out and getting some wins this year,” Jackson said.

The football team kicks-off its 2022 campaign at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 3 at Stambaugh Stadium, hosting the Duquesne University Dukes. The game can be listened to or watched on 570 WKBN or ESPN+.