YSU Penguins Get Bigger, Faster and Stronger

By John Vargo

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The 2020 Youngstown State University football season was postponed until the following spring, causing an abbreviated offseason before the fall 2021 campaign.

This year, there’s no spring season or cumbersome COVID-19 restrictions. It’s finally a normal offseason for the team, which will host Duquesne Sept. 3 in the season opener.

The team dealt with a flurry of injuries because of the quick turnaround from one season to the next in 2021.

Coach Evan Harvey is special teams coordinator.

“We had a lot of shoulder-injury and knee-injury guys, guys that are banged up and sore because they’re older athletes,” says junior linebacker Griffin Hoak. “Having that full offseason, getting our weights back into our ranges, having those things we need to touch up, I think we’ll be ready to go in the fall. It’s very beneficial.”

They’ve also had time to do other things such as hang out at YSU head coach Doug Phillips’ house for team bonding activities, along with other activities to get to know one another.

“COVID messed everything up the past two years but it’s no excuse right now,” says sophomore quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw. “We’re building a brotherhood and everybody is cool with each other. Coaches are getting to know the players and stuff like that.

“The closer the team is, it helps you win.”

A handful of transfers and new coaches have come into the Penguins program this season. So getting to know each other and working well together is important, Hoak says.

“You might go over to the coach’s house, play some cornhole, have some fun competition and get some laughs here and there,” he says. “It’s just good to get closer to the guys. That way when the season comes and we’re battling, we can stay together when we’re on the field through the adversity we face.”

Bigger, faster and stronger are three words Phillips uses to describe this year’s team.

Sophomore offensive lineman David Metzler went from 285 to 315 pounds from the fall of 2021 to the upcoming season.

Training began with an offseason weight program that started in January, followed by practice sessions in the spring, and then summer workouts and team bonding sessions.

“They’re working hard together,” Phillips says. “They’re working through what straining is and what they’re bodies are able to do.

“I felt without an offseason, the toughest thing our players had was practice, and practice should be easy – having a great offseason.”

These YSU players also understand how to make that progress with a new strength and conditioning coach in Jimmy Rodenberg, who started in January. Players had to know his expectations along with adapting to new ways to get themselves stronger this offseason.

“They had to understand the expectation level, the sense of intensity it takes to work out,” Phillips says. “Then the proper way of training, how we were going to work as a unit. Then you’re working on individual lifts and want to see great improvements in those.

“As we get closer to the season, it goes from strength into conditioning.”

Weight training was far from the mundane squats, lifts and other exercises, Hoak explains. His team had a Steel City Squat Down at the end of June, with the weight room transformed with spotlights over each rack.

“Everyone was hyping each other up around the racks,” Hoak says. “We maxed out for as many reps as possible.

“It was a fun time. Everyone was getting after each other. Everyone is getting stronger, working harder.”

Players from the offensive and defensive sides took turns displaying how much weight each could lift in front of his teammates. An offensive lineman pressed 705 pounds, while redshirt freshman Dante Walker did five or six reps at 545 pounds, Hoak says. He adds the defensive line is much stronger as well.

Doug Phillips says the team is “working hard together.”

As for Hoak, he lifted 505 pounds for four reps.

“Not too bad,” he says.

Phillips says his team was able to fully concentrate on the intricacies of the offense and the schemes involved with the team’s defense – studying film of them practicing to improve their progress.

He says he sees his players working with their respective position coaches in their offices, studying film as a group or on their own to understand the offense, pass concepts, coverages and all facets of the game.

“To see them want to be here and get better at their specific position lets me know they care deeply about our program,” Phillips says.

Sophomore defensive back D’Marco Augustin is one of those players, studying what needs to be done to improve his game. Augustin says he is aware of where his eyes are focused, alignment and where his assignments are on the playing field.

Running in sand, footwork drills, along with running in the stadium, sprints and on the treadmill are some of the things senior tailback Jaleel McLaughlin does to stay in shape.

His day usually begins around 4:30 a.m., working out five to six times a day to prepare for the upcoming season.

“I do a lot of extra work because I want to leave it all out there this year for the fans, my teammates and everyone that comes to watch the games,” he says.

The newcomers and veterans to the program are meshing throughout these drills, something fans will see when the season begins.

“They’re getting the hang of everything, the playbook, new plays, how we line up and things like that,” Augustin says. “They’re getting used to it pretty well.”

A full offseason means this YSU team is more prepared for a 2022 season without any hiccups or COVID-19 interruptions, Crenshaw says.

“We’re going to win a lot of games here,” he says. “I can tell this is a good chemistry team this year. It’s going to be exciting.”

Pictured at top: Ready to take the field are sophomore Dylan Wudke, senior James Jackson and sophomore Anthony Johnson.