On Tuesday, the Youngstown State University football team held its first spring practice of the season at the Watson and Tressel Training Site.
Head football coach Eric Wolford addressed the media on Monday, excited about the chance to get back to work.
“It’s rejuvenating to be around your players,” he said.
Wolford said the team was just as anxious as he was about the beginning of spring practices.
“They’re all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” he said.
This season, YSU has 41 returning letter winners: 20 on offensive, 19 on defense and two on special teams. Of those letter winners, there will be 14 returning starters: six on offense and seven on defense, while Nick Liste will return as the only starter on special teams.
Wolford and his staff have decided that a larger emphasis needs to be put on special teams.
“We need to get more competition, even during practice settings,” Wolford said. Although the Penguins were first in the conference on third down conversions at 51.9 percent, Wolford said there’s always room for improvement.
While YSU had four turnovers in the red zone last year, the defense forced only four interceptions all season — a number that Wolford said must be increased.
“We ended up finishing 11th in the country statistically,” he said. “Obviously, we were stout against the run; we need to get better at our pass defense.”
Wolford said he believes his team has the potential to take the next step and make the postseason.
“We have the pieces in place,” he said. “We need to get the experience.”
Someone with experience, senior Kurt Hess, will be the starting quarterback come the first game of the season. However, Wolford acknowledged the importance of having a solid backup quarterback.
“The quarterback is a key player in your team’s success — we’ll go as [Hess] goes,” Wolford said.
Wolford said he is moving players around between positions to try and give them a fit where they will be most beneficial to the team.
“I’m trying to figure out the best way to get the best 22 starters,” he said. “Then, along with them, who are the next 10-12 guys that are going be in, playing during the game?”
This offseason, the Penguins made changes to their coaching staff: Eric Gallon (running backs), Jamie Bryant (special teams coordinator/assistant linebackers), Kurt Beathard (wide receivers) and Mark Mangino (assistant head coach, tight ends). Wolford said he applauds them for not only bringing their knowledge of the game, but also being relatable to the players.
“We’ve got a strong staff,” he said. “They’re going to make a difference.”
While it is obviously early in the season, Wolford and the team have their goals in place.
“We embrace the expectation of continuing to improve around here,” Wolford said. “Our goal is just to improve every day. When we do things that we’re capable of and make good decisions and take care of the football, we’re a pretty good football team.”