YSU adding to area players

YOUNGSTOWN — Like millions of other football fans, Warren G. Harding senior Troy Jakubec watched the Super Bowl, but unlike most of those fans, he noticed something interesting about the New England Patriots.

They had two players from Youngstown State on their roster. Sure, Jakubec made his decision to be part of the Penguins 2018-19 recruiting class before the Patriots won it all, but YSU players simply being in the NFL just a few years after finishing with the Penguins factored heavily into his decision.

“That plays a big role because that’s everybody’s dream is going to the NFL,” Jakubec said, “and when you see people coming out of YSU and making it to the Super Bowl, winning Super Bowl rings and stuff, it plays a big role.”

The list of area recruits on YSU keeps growing annually, and it seems to become more impressive each year. Bo Pelini and the Youngstown State coaching staff are building the Penguins football team with homegrown talent, and once again it showed on National Signing Day.

While the big name was Trumbull County Player of the Year Mark Waid, the second straight year YSU signed Trumbull County’s POY, the Girard star quarterback was just one of several area players to join the Penguins.

Waid and Jakubec, a 6-foot-1 defensive back, were joined by Cardinal Mooney’s Cheriff Jamison, a 6-4, 230-pound defensive end, East’s Chris Fitzgerald, a 6-foot, 280-pound defensive tackle, Matt Jones, a former Hubbard offensive lineman who’s transferring from West Virginia University as a graduate student, and Poland’s Colten McFadden, who also is transferring to YSU after spending two seasons at Kent State.

Those are just the scholarship players. Several other local standouts are preferred walk-ons, including John F. Kennedy’s Isaac Hadley (LB/FB), McDonald’s Alex Cintron (RB) and Josh Celli (athlete), Lakeview’s Tony Crish (RB/WR/DB), East’s Terrence Yeboah, Canfield’s Jarod Tincher and Valley Christian’s Jordan Trowers, among others.

The influx of players has picked up pace since Pelini took over four years ago.

“Just growing up, that’s the local team, so a lot of us go down there and get that college experience right there,” said Jakubec about why so many area players are choosing YSU. “I just want to be a part of it.”

They join an already large contingency of Mahoning Valley players on the roster. The 2017 Trumbull County POY, Dra Rushton of Liberty, was a redshirt freshman last year. JFK’s Jake Coates was a kick and punt returner the last two years. Boardman’s Wesley Thompson is a former walk-on who is now a starting defensive lineman for the Penguins.

“They see that there are guys who made the most of the opportunity,” said Pelini, who later indicated he plans to re-sign with YSU in the very near future. “You look at Wes Thompson, and there are a number of kids who have come in here. I try to sell them on the fact that if you come and you do the right things in this program, number one, you’re going to have a chance to play because we’re going to reward kids. We don’t care whether you’re on scholarship or a walk-on. If you earn the opportunity, you’re going to play. Kids like that.”

Waid and McFadden enrolled at YSU in January, and Waid has made it known he hopes to compete for the starting QB job.

The door is open after the graduation of incumbent starter Montgomery VanGorder. Pelini said spot starter Nathan Mays recently underwent surgery to his leg, but he expects him to take part in spring practices, which start Feb. 24. Pelini has spoke highly of quarterback Joe Craycraft as well, a sophomore for YSU who has yet to throw a collegiate pass.

Pelini didn’t rule out Waid earning the job, but it won’t be easy.

“The physical part of it isn’t (going to be more difficult) because we’re not going to hit our quarterback in the spring,” said Pelini of the challenges of a quarterback playing as a true freshman. “He’s going to get a jump on the mental side of things (by playing in the spring). He’s going to get 15 practices, 30 meetings or whatever it is during the spring. It’s a lot of time where he can get a chance to learn. That’s going to be a good jump as far as him being able to compete in the fall.”

Overall, 14 of the 20 players YSU signed were either from Ohio or Pennsylvania as the Penguins try to regroup from a down year and take aim at another playoff push.

“The potential is there,” Pelini said. “We have the potential to be a really good football team. We just need to pinpoint certain things that we need to do to become that football team.”