YSU’s attitude evolved from 2012 mistakes

YOUNGSTOWN – Christian Bryant first noticed it during fall camp.

It was August. The temperatures were in the 80s. Everyone was sore and sick of practicing. This was normally the time when tempers flared and players prayed for the horn to sound, indicating the end of another long and draining two-a-day.

That wasn’t the case this year.

“It was the funnest camp I’ve been involved with since I’ve been here,” said Bryant, a junior wide receiver for Youngstown State University. “We had a lot of team bonding. We really came together.”

Whatever chemistry was built spilled over into the regular season. The Penguins are 5-1 and 2-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference for the first time since 2006 – the last time they made the playoffs.

What makes Bryant and coach Eric Wolford happy is that YSU isn’t talking about the playoffs or its No. 16 ranking in the FCS Coaches Poll. Their mindset is boring, clicheed and makes members of the media roll their eyes when they hear it. But, it’s the truth, Bryant said.

“We’re taking it one day at a time,” he said.

That approach may not make many headlines, but the Penguins learned last year that looking ahead can cost them. Bryant and senior quarterback Kurt Hess each admitted that the team started to overlook opponents and possessed a bit of arrogance after a 4-0 start. That led to an 0-4 record in October and another year of being on the outside looking in when the postseason started.

It’s a lesson they haven’t soon forgotten.

“This is as confident as we’ve been since I’ve been here, but I don’t think that you would see that we’re overconfident or anything,” Bryant said. “Our attitude is great in the locker room right now, and it leads out onto the field. We’re just really focused, and the coaches are doing a great job getting on us at practice – keeping us leveled. We need to keep this going. We can’t get complacent because we saw what happened last year.”

That disappointing season in 2012 is one that comes up often during interviews and press conferences. That’s not because players or coaches are looking back at a missed opportunity, Wolford said, but it’s more so because they use it as a learning tool to help them this year. Not knowing or hearing what Bryant had said just minutes earlier, Wolford echoed his comments.

“I feel much better about our maturity and our leadership,” he said. “I think that started after last year, and it really developed during camp. We had several players get up and talk to our team in the night meetings and talk about those experiences from last year. … Now, we’re doing a better job of keeping things in check and in perspective.”

The next team in YSU’s sights is Illinois State (2-3, 1-1), a team that has played YSU well over the years. The all-time series is tied at 11 wins apiece, with the home team winning the last five contests. That bodes well for the Penguins, who are coming off a two-game road trip.

“We’ve brought some excitement, we’ve played well to start the season – I think it’s the best record we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Hess said. “We should have a home-field advantage and Stambaugh (Stadium) should be rockin’. I’m excited for it. I hope a lot of people come out. That’ll give us that much more juice and that much more reason to play better.”

BELLAMY’S STATUS: Wolford announced that senior running back Adaris Bellamy, who hasn’t played since Week 1, is dealing with a family issue and has taken “a personal leave of absence from the team.” He did not elaborate on the situation except to say, “He had some things he had to work on with his family. Until he feels comfortable getting those things squared away, we’re going to let him handle those things.”