YOUNGSTOWN - When Joe Tresey was relieved of his duties as defensive coordinator for the Youngstown State University football team last year, the chances of one of the better high school players in Trumbull County suiting up for the Penguins started to fade away.
Liberty's Asim Pleas was on YSU's recruiting radar during the last year and a half, but Pleas started to look at different colleges when he didn't hear much from the Penguins. With Tresey being Youngstown State's recruiter for Trumbull County, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound defensive back didn't hear much from the Penguins and decided to commit to Ohio Dominican University prior to his senior season.
But that's when then YSU came calling.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Liberty graduate Asim Pleas, center, shown here running away from Girard’s James Cupan, left, and Jacob Ryser during a game at Arrowhead Stadium in Girard last season, will play for Youngstown State University this season.
First-year coach Dan Gerberry, who took over Tresey's role of recruiting the Trumbull County area, visited Liberty and let Pleas know the Penguins were still very interested "He was caught in transition," YSU coach Eric Wolford said. "The coach I had recruiting that area left our staff, and kids can get lost in the shuffle. Sometimes there's some miscommunication about what's going on and what's reality.
"Gerberry knew that (Pleas) was a kid we wanted on our football team, and I felt like we needed to find a way to make sure we got him here as opposed to going to another school."
YSU's persistence paid off.
Pleas, a three-year starter on defense at Liberty, recently accepted a partial scholarship to play for the Penguins. He said the fact that YSU didn't give up on him and made it clear they wanted him to be part of the program meant a lot. He also likes the fact that the Penguins are a Division I school and have a long, successful tradition.
"Just the fact that he came back after all that time, even knowing I had made a commitment to Ohio Dominican," said Pleas of what changed his mind. "Honestly, they were the only Division I program that showed interest.
"As a kid, everybody goes to YSU games. So, seeing how the program works - I know they have a real good program at YSU - that was part of it, too. And being a hometown kid, my mom could get to all the games, my family and friends could come watch me play at almost any time, so that played a pretty big role in it."
Pleas was a two-way player who led the Leopards to back-to-back playoff appearances as the quarterback. He also was a third-team All-Ohio selection on defense as a senior, picking off four passes and returning one for a touchdown while playing corner and safety. He made five interceptions as a junior.
The Penguins recruited him to play safety, but Wolford, who was a bit surprised more Division I teams didn't pursue Pleas, said his position could change if needed.
"Unfortunately, as circumstances were, I think he had three different high school coaches," said Wolford of Liberty having three coaches in the past three years. "He's played a bunch of different positions, but when you look at a kid and you look at his frame, you have to make a projection.
"He's a local kid, and we always try to give a local guy a chance. We had to make a guess at playing him there (at safety)."
The reason Wolford said he likes Pleas at safety because of his athleticism. Tall and rangy, Pleas also was a dynamic basketball player and was named to the All-Ohio second team as a senior. Pleas, whose father played at the University of Illinois, said football was always his first choice to play in college.
Wolford's thinks it was a wise decision.
"He's a great athlete, he just needs to become more explosive, and with some weight-room training, he can be a really explosive player," he said. "Mike Zordich is our defensive back coach, he played 13 years in the NFL and he said, 'I think this guy has a chance to be a really great player.' With some (added) weight, the sky's the limit as far as what he can be."
Pleas can't wait for the opportunity.
"YSU, they took a chance on me, so I'm going to do what's best for that program," Pleas said. "I'm going to dedicate everything I do to them and try to be the best player and student I can for them."