YOUNGSTOWN - After Tuesday's Youngstown State University football press conference at Stambaugh Stadium, there is one question that was answered definitively - the Penguins are ready to get back on to the field.
YSU opens the 2012 campaign on Saturday against the University of Pittsburgh at Heinz Field. But if the returning players from the 2011 team had their way, the season would have started on Nov. 20 - the day after the Penguins' were eliminated from a chance for the playoffs by Missouri State.
"I feel like we've had (game-week) intensity since the season ended last year," senior tailback Jamaine Cook said. "I just feel like the guys are excited and I can just sense the energy and we want to go out there and play for a win. We are excited for the season because we realize the opportunity that we had."
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Youngstown State quarterback Kurt Hess (12) returns for his junior season under center for the Penguins. The team kicks off the 2012 campaign Saturday against Pitt at Heinz Field. Game time is 6 p.m.
While the 38-34 loss definitely left a feeling of defeat to the Penguins seven months ago, they haven't hung their heads about it in the offseason. Rather, they have turned the negative into a positive, both on and off the field.
"I think we realized not only the potential, but what it may take to get to where we want to go," junior quarterback Kurt Hess said. "Last year at Missouri State, we were probably closer than anybody in the country to reach the playoffs and probably just missed. I think we realized that we were there and that we can get back there because we were there. But not only to get there, but to exceed that point. And, we realized what it's going to take throughout the season and in the film room and in the weight room. We want to have a long season and that's our goal."
Having that mindset helps when taking on an opponent like Pitt - a member of the Big East Conference. This marks the sixth-straight season the Penguins will open with an FBS opponent.
"It's a big game," Cook said. "I think we are going into this like it's any other game even though it is a big game. I think our mindset that coach (Eric) Wolford has instilled in us, no matter who we play against, we can compete. And, we are our own worst enemy so we are the only people that can hurt ourselves. Our team is... we control our own destiny because we are confident against any opponent that we have."
And if there is a destiny the Penguins want to control it is to play a complete game and making sure to finish strong. While the Missouri State loss sticks out in memory as a second-half collapse - the Penguins led 27-10 at halftime - it wasn't just the season finale. YSU lost games in the fourth quarter to both Indiana State and South Dakota State - both Missouri Valley Football Conference games.
"I think the biggest thing we have done is address our weaknesses," Hess said. "The fourth quarter hasn't really been a strong suit of ours. We have made a lot of mental mistakes and a lot of physical mistakes during those games. We really wanted to address those weaknesses late in the game. When it's crunch time and when somebody needs to step up and make a play we are going to bond together and attack the fourth quarter, and attack the whole game and not just play a half."
The new-attitude, and hopefully four-quarter, Penguins kick off the season at 6 p.m. on Saturday.