YOUNGSTOWN - The biggest loss from last year for the Youngstown State University football team has to be running back Jamaine Cook.
Cook, who finished with 1,279 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior, was named team MVP in 2012. It was the third consecutive year Cook eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark. He ended his career with the second-most rushing yards in school history with 4,052.
Yet, one thing missing from his vast array of skills was breakaway speed - his longest rush in 2012 was 44 yards. The ability to bust loose for a long run is something YSU coach Eric Wolford covets, and with Cook gone, Wolford believes he may have that guy in former Warren G. Harding running back Demond Hymes.
"I feel like, at running back, we have the chance to be as good or better," said Wolford as the Penguins finished one of their spring practices. "Because, we get a lot of nice runs, but we need to get some runs where we make a guy miss and go house. And I think these guys have that potential. Like Jordan (Thompson), I think Demond Hymes has that, and I think (Adaris) Bellamy's got shake."
Hymes has a great deal of respect for Cook and what he accomplished. He was able to learn from Cook, a possible NFL draft pick, the last two years. The sophomore said it was a pleasure to watch him, but now it's time to take the reins.
"He was one of our great backs (at YSU)," Hymes sad. "But now it's time for me to aim for his records and break 'em. Set my own and keep pushing them."
A 2011 Harding grad, Hymes is one of three to four players vying for the vacant spot at running back. He will battle Bellamy, Torrian Pace (second on the team in rushing in 2012) and possibly Thompson, who left the program to work on his academics in 2011 but may return in the fall. Hymes' spring performance could go a long way in determining where he lies on the Penguins' depth chart when fall practices begin. He finished fifth on the team in rushing in 2012 with 93 yards on 17 carries, but Wolford admitted the lack of production was his own fault.
"Looking back, I was disappointed we didn't give him more opportunities last year," he said. "That's my fault. That's my responsibility. I need to see things through to make sure that he gets an opportunity. I think he's a guy that has a tremendous amount of ability. He's a good kid. He's an awesome kid to be around, just a great person. He's a yes-sir, no-sir kind of guy. He goes to class and he does the things you want him to do, and he deserved an opportunity, and we didn't see things through to get that done."
That could change this year. Hymes, who ran for 1,209 yards, 18 touchdowns and averaged nearly 8 yards per carry as a senior at Harding, said he spent the offseason refining his skills. He's as big, strong and fast as he's ever been. Maybe even more importantly, he's hungry to show what he can do.
"I'm trying to get back to what I really love: showing off my talent," he said. "The spider webs are gone, and the chains are off my legs. Just give me the ball, and I'm going to show you what I can do with it."
Hymes is equally excited to display his talents in the Mahoning Valley. One of the reasons he chose YSU was because his family and friends could watch him play, and that's helped motivate the 5-feet-11, 200-pound Hymes.
"It's cool being from the area because I got everybody coming back from my high school, people from around here - even the schools I beat - people come out and see me," he said. "It's just a great environment for me to play football. I love it."
He'll love it even more if he's the first guy out there when the Penguins' offense takes the field. He believes a better understanding of the offense will help. He absorbed a lot as a redshirt freshman in 2011 and really started to grasp the system last year. Now, it's second nature.
"Now that I know everything (about the offense), it's just like walking down the street," he said. "It's easy to me. It's like breathing."
The Penguins continue spring practices at 4 p.m. today.