By John Vargo
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Four games into the 2022 season, Youngstown State University head football coach Doug Phillips made a monumental shift at halftime of the Penguins’ game at North Dakota State University.
Mitch Davidson, the team’s backup quarterback, replaced starter Demeatric Crenshaw. The move was predicated by about 10 practices during which Phillips determined how well Davidson might handle himself if inserted into the NDSU game.
Davidson would remain in the role and become the starter.
“We gained the confidence in practice, to be able to execute and throw the ball a little bit better than we were,” Phillips says. “And I thought he did a great job and finished a season strong going into spring.”
Davidson started his YSU career in 2018 as a redshirt freshman walk-on. By 2020, as former Penguin coach Bo Pelini left for Louisiana State University, Davidson was about seventh on an eight-man depth chart.
Sitting the bench didn’t please Davidson, a Salem High School graduate. He eventually pushed himself to vie for a starting position after getting a bit of playing time in the 2021 season.
“I didn’t come to college to just be a backup my whole life,” Davidson says,
YSU offensive coordinator Troy Rothenbuhler made an impression on Davidson heading into the 2022 camp. He started every offensive meeting by imploring those in the room to take a job.
“I was prepared like I was always told to be,” says Davidson, who threw for more than 1,600 yards with 12 touchdowns and one interception. “I knew if I ever did get my chance, which I thought I would at some point, that I had to be prepared for that moment and I feel like I was.”
In addition to Davidson, the YSU quarterbacks are redshirt freshmen Beau Brungard and Max Blanc with incoming freshman Bryce Schondelmyer.
“I feel we have a competitive, smart quarterback group,” Phillips says.
Here is a look at the depth chart at every position for the 2023 Penguins:
Senior Bryce Oliver leads the receiving corps after amassing more than 800 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
The Penguins go 10 deep at receiver as there are players like junior Latrell Fordham, sophomores Max Tomczak, Daryan Bowling and Luke Hensley, along with junior C.J. Charleston, who is returning after tearing an Achilles tendon at the beginning of the 2022 camp. Senior tight end Jake Benio is opening space for these receivers.
“We’re going to spread the ball out this year,” Davidson says. “I’m excited for that.”
Senior Dra Rushton, who had more than 300 yards rushing last season, returns in the backfield, backing up the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher, Jaleel McLaughlin, who is trying to make the roster with the Denver Broncos.
The team’s only transfer, senior Tyshon King out of Northern Michigan, rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and caught for more than 400 yards with a combined 13 touchdowns in 2022. King and Rushton will be joined by redshirt freshmen Cephus Harris III and Da’Shaun Whatley, among others.
Mike McAllister is trying to make the Los Angeles Rams’ roster as an offensive lineman, leaving a void at center for YSU’s offensive line. Junior Aidan Parker moved from left guard the past two years to center. Junior David Metzler goes from left tackle to left guard. On the right side, junior Jaison Williams is a right tackle and senior Ryan Johnson is a right guard. As for left tackle, sophomore EJ Johnson is battling redshirt freshman Desmeal Leigh.
On the defensive side, the unit is led by senior Dylan Wudke and junior Chris Fitzgerald. Senior Devin Lee, junior Anthony Johnson, sophomore Deamontae Diggs, senior Andres Lehrmann, junior Hunter Allen and sophomore Michael Voitus are looking to make their marks on this front as well.
Wudke said the defensive linemen have high expectations as they constantly run to the ball during practices.
“When one guy makes a play, it drives everyone else to make another,” said Wudke, who had 43 tackles and five sacks last season.
Junior Alex Howard is playing middle linebacker, while senior Greg Benton Jr. is at the weak-side spot. Redshirt freshman Mike Wells, junior Logan Pasco, sophomore Preston Zandier and junior Devin Johnson are seeking time as well.
Junior D’Marco Augustin, who had 41 tackles, is a seasoned starter, with sophomore Andrew
Centofanti getting time as well. Senior Quincy Lenton, who had 51 tackles and two interceptions, didn’t think he was coming back to YSU. He found an agent, then realized he was eligible to play another year of college and decided to remain a Penguin.
In addition to Lenton, Augustin and Centofanti, junior Tyjon Jones and senior Marcus Hooker, whom Phillips says had great spring practices, return.
Junior Troy Jakubec is toggling from safety to cornerback, while junior Alijah Curtis, sophomore Jaylen Castleberry, sophomore Gage Salyers, who is coming back from a knee injury, and redshirt freshman Dylan Dominguez round out the secondary.
“It’ll be very competitive coming off of that position,” Phillips says.
At the cornerback spot, Jordan Trowers, who led with 51 tackles, returns with Jakubec, juniors Amarian Robinson and Ezekiel Blake all bringing experience from the 2022 campaign.
Phillips says it is sophomore Clay Medvec’s job to win as placekicker, being pushed by redshirt freshman Andrew Lastovka and freshman Michael Gleske. Punting will be sophomore Brendon Kilpatrick, who has a strong leg.
“He’ll hit some 65 yarders,” Phillips says.
“We have to make sure that our coverage teams can get down there and cover and not allow those to be returnable.”
Pictured at top: YSU quarterback Mitch Davidson looks to throw to a receiver during a July 31 practice. Photo: YSU Athletics.