It has been a long time since the Youngstown State football program has had such a hometown feel to it.
As the Penguins began a dominant run in Division I-AA in the 1990s, they did so by locking up a significant amount of the local high school talent.
In many cases, if a player wasn't big enough, fast enough or quite talented enough to get a scholarship offer from a Big Ten Conference university or a school from another major conference, chances were then-YSU coach Jim Tressel would get them.
Tressel used to call the area 50 miles in any direction from Stambaugh Stadium "the state of Youngstown," and he and his staff made a priority of mining that landscape for players. Many of those players made significant contributions to the Penguins' 1991, '93, '94 and '97 Division I-AA national championship teams. YSU also appeared in the 1992 and '99 title games. Local talent played a huge role in 10 playoff appearances in Tressel's 15 seasons at YSU.
But Tressel left for Ohio State in 2000 and Jon Heacock, his successor, was not able to duplicate the level of success despite having been one of his chief assistants for much of the 1990s. Since 2001, the Penguins have made the playoffs only once, advancing to the Football Championship Subdivision semifinals in '06.
Along the way, YSU's grip on local talent diminished significantly, with the program losing some recruits to programs like Kent State and Akron at a higher rate than had been seen in years. To be fair, the dynamics of joining a conference - YSU was an independent for much of Tressel's tenure - and other challenges changed the recruiting landscape just as the program changed hands.
But now that it is again under relatively new leadership, YSU seems intent on going back to the future and the roots Tressel cultivated.
Eric Wolford, who replaced Heacock in 2010, figured perhaps the best way to return the program to elite status in the FCS was to once again corner the market in the Penguins' own backyard.
It looks like Wolford is well on his way. As YSU opens preseason camp this weekend, 32 players from high schools in Trumbull or Mahoning County are part of the program.
Trumbull County: Jimmy May Jr. (Warren G. Harding), Demond Hymes (Warren G. Harding), Marc Kanetsky (Hubbard), Nick Liste (Niles), Blake Novotny (Hubbard), Davion Rogers (Warren G. Harding), Stephen Page (Newton Falls), Adam Charles (Girard), Pat White (Warren G. Harding), Bryce Grimm (Champion), Scott Sentner (McDonald) and Santiago Mason (Champion).
Mahoning County: Mike Thomas (East), Nick Buonavolonta (Boardman), Matt Romeo (Boardman), Jordan Markota (Ursuline), Donald D'Alesio (Cardinal Mooney), Dom Rich (Canfield), Chuck Lengyel (South Range), D.J. Moss (Fitch), Zach Conlan (Ursuline), Steve Zaborsky (Fitch), Brandon Ferguson (West Branch), Eric Franklin (Cardinal Mooney), Zach Larson (Cardinal Mooney), David Rach (South Range), Gannon Hulea (Poland) and Taylor Hill (Cardinal Mooney).
In addition, Boardman products Danny Fernback, Kevin Johnson and Timote Taumoepeau are expected to join the team for camp in the coming days and Mark Brandenstein, another former Spartans player, is expected to be redshirted this season.
And that doesn't include players from places like Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Kent and Steubenville also peppering the Penguins' current roster. YSU again seems to be gaining significant ground in recruiting battles here and beyond.
The state of Youngstown, as Tressel saw it, had its heart in the Mahoning Valley, but stretched from Lake Erie to West Virginia north to south and from Columbus deep into western Pennsylvania.
Wolford seems to see it that way, too. And more and more area high school players seem to view YSU as a desired destination.