YOUNGSTOWN - Youngstown State's season opener and a matchup with a Big Ten team was slightly overshadowed at the Penguins' press conference on Tuesday.
Former Austintown Fitch star linebacker/running back Will Mahone, who was indefinitely suspended from the Notre Dame football team in June, recently enrolled at YSU and is going to walk on to the Penguins' football team, according to YSU coach Eric Wolford.
"I investigated the whole situation in a lot of different ways," Wolford said. "He's going to walk on our football team, he's going to earn his way, and he knows he has some work to do and some things that he needs to get straightened away, but we're excited to have him as part of our team."
Mahone, who played sparingly as a sophomore receiver for the Irish last year, was arrested in June when Austintown police found Mahone intoxicated and attempting to fight multiple people. According to police, he eventually threatened to kill his arresting officers and struck one with his head before being arrested.
Mahone's lawyer later told The Associated Press that he was not welcome back to Notre Dame as long as there were felonies pending. In July, Mahone was sentenced to 10 days in jail after pleading guilty to resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, assault and aggravated menacing - all misdemeanors.
Mahone has to sit out this season, but exactly why isn't clear. It could be disciplinary actions by YSU, but another possibility is an NCAA guideline that states a student has to be in good academic standing for an entire year at the school he transferred to before he can participate in athletics. Wolford simply said, "He's not eligible," but he did add that the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Mahone will be changing positions.
"It's a situation where he can use this year to train and get himself acclimated again to the defensive side of the ball," Wolford said. "We're going to play him at outside linebacker. We looked at him out of high school, and I thought he'd be an outstanding outside linebacker. I know (Notre Dame) brought him in and played him at running back and did some things at receiver, but I really felt like he could be a special outside linebacker just because of his athletic ability."
Mahone was a second-team, All-Ohio selection in Division I as a senior linebacker. He made 30 tackles and an interception that season, which was cut in half by an ankle injury. He also ran for 700 yards and nine touchdowns. As a junior, he made five interceptions and returned two for scores.
His skill and athleticism could be much needed for a defense that finished last in the conference in total yards in 2013, but if he makes another mistake, it won't matter.
"Everyone knows that you don't get third chances with me," Wolford said. "I've made that clear since I've been here. We have a high standard of the way you're supposed to conduct yourself as a member of this program."
That said, he doesn't see anything wrong with giving a young person a shot to clean up his act.
"You see all over the country, a lot of programs and people in general, give people second chances," Wolford said. "Here's a local guy, and why shouldn't we give him a second chance?
"Kids always need help, and I think it's our job to always keep a support system around people, no matter who it is, to make sure they have a chance to be successful."
The Penguins open their season at noon on Saturday against the University of Illinois.