Injury bug biting Penguins

YOUNGSTOWN – The rigors of spring practices are starting to wear on the Youngstown State University football team as injuries are beginning to mount.

Better now than later.

Three players with strong chances of starting when the season rolls around are out for a significant amount of time after suffering injuries over the past week.

Running back Adaris Bellamy (shoulder) and offensive linemen Stephen Page (shoulder) and Andrew Sinko (broken scapula) didn’t practice on Thursday. Bellamy, who has an acromioclavicular sprain, and Sinko, who broke his scapula during a Saturday’s practice, will miss the rest of the spring session, which concludes with the annual Red-White Spring Game on April 19.

Also, sophomore running back John Medina, a Poland High School graduate, injured his knee on Tuesday and had an MRI on Thursday. The extent of his injury and Page’s are yet to be known. Page, a 2010 Newton Falls High School graduate, is battling to become the starting center after playing in six games (one start) as a sophomore last year.

“Hopefully it’s nothing that holds him back from scrimmaging on Saturday,” YSU coach Eric Wolford said of Page. “But if we need to modify things a little bit, we will. Sometimes I just put those o-lineman and d-lineman up against each other and don’t worry about anything else.”

The list grew longer on Thursday when corner Parnell Taylor and wide receiver Christian Bryan suffered what appeared to be minor setbacks. Wolford said the rash of injuries won’t lead to major changes in the structure of practices. The Penguins’ No. 1 offense went against their No. 1 defense several times on Thursday, which has been customary through the first three weeks of spring practices. The fourth-year coach said he has tried to ease up just a little, but considering this is the first time he has seen some of these players with pads on, he wants them going at full speed, so he can gain a better determination of their ability level.

“It’s a very fine line,” Wolford said. “We’re still being pretty physical. We’re still banging around those o-linemen and d-lineman pretty good. I’m dead set on that’s where we’re going to win football games at right now. I think we’ve got their pieces of the puzzle put together. We have to continue to be dominant on the line of scrimmage game in and game out. That’s easier said than done in this league.”

Page hopes to be part of an offensive line that could be the strength of the team. Several players return up front, including Sinko, tackle Kyle Bryant and first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference guard Chris Elkins. Page hopes to take over at center for Mark Pratt. He’s been learning from Elkins, a Beaver Falls (Pa.) graduate who has switched from guard to center throughout spring practices.

“It’s not that bad,” said Elkins of switching back and forth from guard to center. “My first couple of years I started learning the offense, and then last year I knew what everyone was supposed to do. I knew what (the center) was doing, I just wasn’t actually doing it. It’s just a little different.”

Elkins is a three-year letterman who played as a true freshman, so much of the leadership up front falls on his shoulders. Wolford spoke highly of his work ethic and dedication over the past few years.

“He’s an overachiever,” Wolford said. “Just works hard, does things right. He came in here at 250 pounds (he’s at 300 now), and he’s a guy who we didn’t redshirt. Last year, he was our best offensive lineman, and we got one guy who went to the combine, so that’s pretty good for a guy who was a junior. He’s the quiet leader of that group, and he’s been a pleasure to be around.”

At this rate, he may be the only guy who is around.