Last season was disappointing for the Youngstown State defense. The Penguins finished 40th with 697 plays, 3,969 yards and had opponents score on them a total of 39 times.
The biggest news on the defensive side is that Carl Pelini has returned. Pelini coached the Penguins from 2015-2017, before heading to Bowling Green as defensive coordinator/interim head coach. With Pelini back as defensive coordinator, look for the Penguins to have a strong defensive team again. However, with seniors Armand Dellovade, Johnson Louigene, Savon Smith, and others that have graduated, who will step up?
Even with some loss on the D-line, Youngstown State has quality defensive players returning for the 2019 season. Sophomore and Youngstown native, Ray Anderson, started some games for the injured Christiaan Randall Posey. Last season, the linebacker had 14 solo tackles, nine assists, averaged 22 tackles and had a fumble recovery. Anderson is young and is ready to start full time this year.
Senior Case Mitchell is back, and he is looking to finish the season and graduate with a championship. In his career so far, Mitchell has had 21 tackles, 15 assists, and two pass deflections. Mitchell has been one of the Penguins best defensive players and is looking to pick off some quarterbacks in 2019. Senior Christiaan Randall Posey, who was on the championship team a few years ago wants a repeat of the 2016 season. Last season Posey ranked sixth with 22 tackles and placed ninth in team sacks. The only thing he wants now is an interception, as he did not get the chance last season due to a neck injury.
Other players to watch are senior Brandon Williams, sophomore Jaylen Hewett, junior Devon McNutt, and Malachi Newell. Every linebacker will return besides Dellovade, which means the linebacker position has significant depth and experience.
The Vindicator graded the secondary with a disappointing C-minus last season, their worst grade in the last few seasons. However, YSU has guys returning who have now had two or three years of experience. Kyle Hegedus, who went down last season with an ACL injury, is looking to make a great comeback. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Hegedus has torn his ACL so there will be a concern. However, the man is ready to pick off some quarterbacks in 2019. In 2017, Hegedus had an interception with 74 total tackles. If he stays healthy, look for him to have a great season on defense.
Other players include Melvin Jackson who had 17 total tackles, DJ Smalls with 22 total tackles and an interception, senior Devanere Crenshaw who has not gotten an interception yet, but does have 33 total tackles, and finally, Bryce Gibson. In 2017, Gibson was Missouri Valley All-Newcomer. In 2018, he had 42 total tackles, a forced fumble, and broke up 12 passes. Gibson is going to be special this season coming up. Other returners who will possibly get some playing time are LaQuan White, Mike Nash, Daniel Kwarteng, Alec Burzynski who had a forced fumble in two games, and Sam McGuigan who had seven tackles and had a role in special teams.
This secondary may have lost players like Will Latham, DeShon Taylor, Avery Larkin, Chrispin Lee, and Donovan McWilson, but this new squad is ready to take their place.
Players who graduated or left the program are Savon Smith, Johnson Louigene, Lamont Ragland, and Tommy McCraw. However, the Penguins have a number of returning players, including senior Sherief Bynum who had 37 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, broke up a pass and had three and a half sacks. Look for Bynum to have a big impact with his athletic skills, and leadership.
Another player to watch for is Ma’lik Richmond who was a controversial player when joining in 2017. Richmond played five games in 2017 and 11 games in 2018. Richmond had 22 total tackles, two and a half sacks, and a forced fumble.
Others include Dontae Cilenti who is going into his sophomore season, Derek Hite, Will Henry, Vinny Gentile, and 2017 two star recruit James Jackson.
With most of their line being seniors last season, Pelini and defensive line coach Donald D’Alesio will have to look for young playmakers who can step up. The spring game showed that they can play well, but now comes camp.
Special Teams is one of the biggest changes this season. With Kicker Zak Kennedy graduating, and Collin Burdette leaving the program, that leaves the doors wide open for the kicking position.
The competition will be transfer Colten McFadden, who did kickoffs for Kent State last season, as well as Grant Gonya. Mcfadden had 2,909 yards on Kickoffs with 15 touchbacks, while Gonya started against South Dakota making two field goals, and four extra points. McFadden and Gonya, have been kicking with each other for years, so it’s good to see a reunion.
Youngstown State has three punters looking to start this season. Those being Austintown Fitch graduate Nick DeSalvo, and Canfield graduate Ryan Teminsky. Teminsky took a few years off after graduating from Canfield but will be a walk-on this season. The last punter is Brandon Youngs from Western Reserve.
The returners for this season will be both Christian Turner and Jake Coates. However, the Penguins are looking for a few other players to return. The other players who will have a chance at returner are Joe Alessi, CJ Charleston, Samuel St. Surin, and Natavious Payne.
The Vindicator reports that the Penguins are still looking for its long snapper. Senior Luke Shellhammer has been doing both short and long snapping, but nothing’s confirmed until the fall.
It’s a new season for the Youngstown State Penguins and either they will make it to the FCS playoffs, or they will miss it again with speculations happening in 2020. You can find the Penguins 2019 schedule here.