By Chris Mcbride
With the loss of key members from last season’s championship run that came up short, the Youngstown State University football team looks to its upperclassmen to lead them into the new season.
YSU’s roster features 20 seniors, eight of whom are returning players, while the others have come to YSU various ways. Headlining some of the returning the seniors are Kevin Rader, Ricky Davis, Cole Newsome, Shane Kuhn and Justin Spencer.
Building from the momentum of his play last season, junior running back Tevin McCaster will be starting this season following in the footsteps of former Penguins Jody Webb and Martin Ruiz.
“I learned a lot from Webb and Ruiz. They were here for a long time and had a lot of success,” McCaster said. “I worked with them a lot and now I’m excited to lead the group.”
McCaster is expected to be an intricate part of the offense this upcoming season after he rushed for 652 yards on 129 carries in 2016.
A major factor in McCaster being able to achieve the same success will be the offensive line.
Last season for the Penguins four members of the offensive line started all 16 games. Of those four, YSU will have three returning. Those are Vitas Hrynkiewicz at center, Gavin Wiggins at guard and Justin Spencer at left tackle.
Coming into the season, McCaster feels confident about the team’s ability to win.
“We have the momentum right now, we had a long season last year and we wanna pick up where we left off,” McCaster said.
Adding to the offense will also be tight end Kevin Rader.
Coming off a career season racking up 17 receptions, Rader expressed his excitement about getting back on the field against the University of Pittsburgh.
“All camp we’ve been itching at the moment to play Pitt,” Rader said. “We played them two years ago and didn’t get the result we wanted but we’re ready to get out there and get the win.”
Pelini recalled his 2015 debut game against Pittsburgh, the high scoring game in which YSU suffered a 45 to 37 loss.
For Pelini, the game was a defensive nightmare he longs to forget.
“I’m a defensive guy,” Pelini said. “I just watched that film the other day and I maybe want to burn it.”
For this season’s home opener it’s something Pelini hopes to correct despite missing key players from the team’s defense this year.
“We wanna execute in all three faces of the game and play as well as we can and if we do that we’ll have an opportunity to win the game,” Pelini said.
While Pittsburgh’s defense managed to give up 407 yards, their defense also recorded six sacks including a late sack to clinch the game by now returning linebacker Zach Poker.
Coming into the game against Pitt, Pelini hopes to use the game as a learning curve.
“After game one, we’ll learn a lot more,” Pelini said. “As we went on last year, we learned a lot and we were able to make the adjustments necessary as we [got] to know our team better — what we’re gonna be good at, or what we’re gonna be not as strong at.”
“You have to be ready to make adjustments,” Pelini said.
Youngstown State opens the 2017 season Sept. 2 at the University of Pittsburgh with kickoff at 1:00 p.m.