By Christina Sainovich
Last season, the Youngstown State University football team was plagued with injuries. The team ended the season with a 4-7 record.
This season, the Penguins have come back with a chip on their shoulder. Boasting a current 3-0 record, the comeback players have made their presence known on the field.
Redshirt senior Kyle Hegedus was one of the key players who suffered a season-ending injury before the 2018 campaign. Hegedus tore his ACL for the second time during fall camp before the first game of the season.
Hegedus said while he doesn’t think last season’s injuries led to the 4-7 record, the comebacks are pushing the team toward a winning season.
“I don’t think a couple pieces missing hurt because our motto is next man up, but you know we are key players, and I think it helps us being back,” said Hegedus, “You know we have that leadership now, myself, Justus [Reed], Kierre [Hawkins]. It does more than just help on the field but off the field as well.”
Kierre Hawkins, junior tight end, also tore his ACL last season. Hawkins said he wanted to avoid surgery after his fall camp injury, so he worked with the trainers and was able to play in two games at the beginning of the season. He then fully tore his ACL, which ended his season.
Hawkins said injuries did play a major part in last season’s struggles.
“It definitely affected the team and all the missing pieces last year. Justus [Reed], Kyle [Hegedus], Malachi [Newell], there were so many people that left last year. From injury, from season-ending injury, it was just terrible. You can tell from watching the games last year that a big piece was missing,” he said.
Hawkins also said players returning from injury have taken on a huge leadership role for this season’s team.
“I mean, we’re 3-0 right now. We are still working to get better, but you can see the strides we took from last year to this year. It’s a totally different vibe. On the team, all our leaders are back: me, Kyle [Hegedus], Justus [Reed]. Most of the people who were hurt last year are our captains now. You can see the big difference of what happened from last year to this year,” Hawkins said.
Senior defensive end Justus Reed suffered a season-ending injury during workouts last summer.
Reed’s return to the field has been impactive early this season. He has taken on a leadership role while anchoring the Penguins defense.
Defensive coordinator Donald D’Alesio is in his second year running the defense. He said having guys like Justus [Reed] and Kyle [Hegedus] is big for the team.
“Just having them back, not even their talent on the field, but to have the depth behind them. Where if they get tired, a guy that started for us last year now is a backup, giving him a break. It’s huge. We know it’s a long year. Guys are going to get nicked up. Guys are going to get tired at some point, so we have to have a lot of depth,” he said.