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Chip on their shoulder: Martin, Penguins eager for chance to face Michigan St.

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU sophomore Keyon Martin celebrates with his team in front of the YSU Marching Pride following the Penguins 44-41 victory over UIW.

YOUNGSTOWN — Keyon Martin wants his opponents to know who he is.

Youngstown State’s sophomore defensive back did a solid job of that during the spring season, earning All-Missouri Valley Football Conference Honorable Mention and a spot on the MVFC All-Newcomer Team with 24 tackles, two pass breakups and an interception.

But just to make sure he really drives the point home, Martin has a ritual for each game week leading up to the Penguins’ matchup with whomever they’re facing.

“One thing I do before every game, every receiver I guard, no matter what the team is, I follow them on Instagram so they know who I am,” he said.

This week’s honorees from Michigan State include Tre Mosley, Jalen Nailor and Jayden Reed.

“I like a few (of their) pictures so they can see my face and know who I am,” he added.

The chip on his shoulder is perhaps a little bigger than usual this week, as the Penguins get ready for their first Power 5 opponent since visiting West Virginia in 2018. YSU last knocked off an FBS opponent in 2012 — a 31-17 win over the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field.

A 2-star or 3-star recruit out of high school depending on which service you follow, Martin never garnered offers from Power 5 programs like MSU. This week, he says, is an opportunity to prove he was worth an opportunity.

“I’m pretty excited because playing in high school, all you do is you play around big-time recruits going to big-time schools,” the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native and Deerfield Beach alumnus said. “Not being as highly recruited as everyone else on my team, I felt like I was Power 5 caliber. So this game is pretty exciting; (it’s my) first time against a Power 5 school and one in the Big Ten.”

It certainly will be a challenge for the 1-0 Penguins, who topped Incarnate Word 44-41 in overtime in their season opener last Thursday. Michigan State also enters at 1-0, having dispatched Northwestern on the road last Friday, 38-21.

The teams last met in 2013. Michigan State easily handled the Penguins 59-17 for its second series win over YSU. That season, the Spartans went on to win the Rose Bowl.

However, despite the bigger stage, bigger-name opponent and all of the hype surrounding facing an FBS program, and especially one that hails from the Big Ten, Martin says his approach hasn’t changed.

That’s a sentiment echoed by tight end Drew Ogletree and head coach Doug Phillips.

“I approach this like any other game. We watch our film, take care of the things we need to take care of in practice and just get after it,” Ogletree said, adding that his dream is to play in the NFL and so he treats this week as an NFL game.

Phillips said he’s eager for the Penguins to take on a program like Michigan State.

“I’m happy the kids get the opportunity to play on that big stage, because they probably wanted to play at that level. Let’s be realistic here,” Phillips said. “For some reason, maybe they didn’t have enough stars, maybe they weren’t tall enough. So our kids, when they go into a game, they’re excited to go out there and play football.”

Heading into the matchup, Phillips says the Penguins are keeping things simple to allow the players to go out, play fast and just make plays.

Martin noted the defense has worked on its zone coverage this week after surrendering 352 passing yards and four touchdowns to UIW.

Meanwhile, in the run game, YSU is tasked with slowing down Kenny Walker, who gashed Northwestern for 264 yards and four touchdowns on the ground last week.

On the other side of the ball, Ogletree said the Penguins are seeking to finish drives better in Week 2 by scoring touchdowns on 100 percent of their red zone trips.

Phillips, who will be making his third trip to Michigan State as a coach, said he feels the MVFC provides a solid preparation for the task at hand.

“I think if you look at our league this past weekend, it was very competitive. They battled a lot of FBS programs,” he said. “I don’t want our kids to go in thinking we have to do something extraordinary, because I believe our league prepares us for that.”

He added, “In the FCS, there isn’t a huge (talent) dropoff; there’s not. We have great football players in the FCS. I think that’s evident when you look at (NFL) Draft day and look at when teams are successful each and every Saturday, especially the teams from our league.

“Not only are we representing the (Mahoning) Valley and Youngstown going up north, we’re representing the league and FCS, and we want to make them proud.”

Kickoff is slated for noon. A full position-by-position breakdown will be available Saturday.

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