YOUNGSTOWN — Expect four-way player Ferlando Williams to continue his role as ‘‘slash’’ again in 2008.
Williams, a senior, played quarterback, wide receiver, returned kicks and lined up as a running back at times last year. He provided a number of spectacular plays in showcasing a great combination of speed, agility and versatility in his first year with YSU.
Williams ran for 464 yards on 74 carries, earning him a team-high 6.3 yards per carry. His nine rushing touchdowns were second best for the Penguins.
The junior-college transfer out of Georgia Military College, where he played quarterback, also started 10 games at wide receiver and led YSU with 42 catches for 499 yards and two touchdowns.
‘‘We’ll continue to use him as we have used him in the past,’’ YSU coach Jon Heacock said. ‘‘He’s our slash. He’s a receiver, slash put him in the backfield, run the reverse and just let him do the things that he does.’’
What he did last season was make game-changing plays and cause headaches for opposing coaches as they tried to prepare for the added dimension of a running quarterback. Williams only played quarterback during certain situations of the game, but since he started at wide receiver and was on the field for much of the game, it made it very difficult for opposing teams to know when he would switch to quarterback.
That type of confusion is likely to continue. Offensive coordinator Brian Wright said he wants to further develop Williams’ role in the offense.
‘‘You’re always working to expand what you do and create and be imaginative with the talent that you have,’’ Wright said. ‘‘That’s the thing that’s exciting this spring is that, along with Ferlando, we feel we have some young guys coming up in the program that we can utilize their talents as well. But (Ferlando) adds that dimension and keeps you working as a coaching staff to find ways to utilize him.’’
Williams was YSU’s back-up quarterback for much of last year after second-stringer Todd Rowan suffered a foot injury. The 6-foot, 200-pound senior took over the back-up role just two weeks before last season and had to learn most of the offense in that span. Williams was vying for a wide receiver spot before Rowan’s injury and spent the months prior to the move to quarterback learning the wide receiver position, which he never played before last season.
So, it was an educational first year with the Penguins, but Heacock said Williams took it in stride.
‘‘Injury forced us to put Ferlando in some situations that sometimes were tough, on all of us because of the teaching part of it,’’ Heacock said. ‘‘Everybody looks at the game and says ‘just give him the ball,’ but there’s a lot more to it than that.’’
? POSITION OVERHAULS: With four-year starting quarterback Tom Zetts graduated, the new man under center will be the main focus of the spring. But quarterback isn’t the only spot where an overhaul will occur.
Two all-conference linebackers and both starting safeties provided the strength of YSU’s defense last year, but all four graduated.
Junior Roshon Simons returns as a starting inside linebacker and will be joined on the outside by senior Nate Ward, who played sparingly in all 11 games last season. Junior-college transfer Draye Ersery will be in the mix with Ward at the strong-side linebacker position.
‘‘(Nate’s) a guy, it’s his senior year, he’s persevered, worked hard and has gotten better and better,’’ defensive coordinator Jeff Mills said. ‘‘He’s got a chance now to step up and earn a starting spot. But he’s going to pushed by Draye.’’
Senior Nick Mernedakis, who played in 10 games last year, will compete with redshirt freshman Adam House at the weak-side linebacker. Mills spoke highly of both and added that House, though young, has a lot of potential.
‘‘(House) is a young, redshirt freshman we’re real excited about,’’ Mills said. ‘‘He can really run and has great athleticism.’’
Three seniors rotated at the safety spots last season, so their backups have very little experience. Mills named sophomores Andre Elliott, Nick Gooden and Brandian Ross as the likely candidates to take over at safety but said there are a few others vying for the spots.
‘‘We’ve got good competition going on,’’ he said. ‘‘I really don’t feel a worry at the safety spot. I’m excited about this young group coming up. Athletically, these guys have the ability to be good players, they’re just green.’’