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Penguins begin fall camp with excitement

Correspondent photo / Robert Hayes YSU head coach Doug Phillips speaks to his team following their first practice of fall camp yesterday afternoon.

YOUNGSTOWN — The excitement was palpable Wednesday morning at Stambaugh Stadium, as Youngstown State began its fall camp ahead of of its Sept. 3 season opener against Duduesne and the rest of the 2022 season.

“It’s like Christmas morning; it’s like opening presents,” said YSU coach Doug Phillips. “But that’ll wear off, and then it’s like Groundhog Day because we’re going to do this for the next 24 days. To be able to overcome that adversity, the mental toughness side of it, that’s what I’m anxious to see. But we’ve had a hard offseason, so hopefully that prepared our kids for a hard preseason camp.”

The Penguins are seeking to improve from their 3-7 mark a season ago. Of those seven losses, three were to opponents which YSU led entering the fourth quarter.

Taking the next step begins with the offense, says quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw.

“It’s really on me and the offense,” he said. “If we click, I feel like we’re going to do really well.”

Crenshaw enters his sophomore campaign after earning Missouri Valley Football Conference Freshman of the Year honors last season. He accumulated 791 yards and six touchdowns passing and added 585 yards and seven touchdowns rushing.

He took first-team reps Wednesday, along with tailback Jaleel McLaughlin, who was named to the watch list for the Walter Payton Award, given to the top offensive player in the FCS. Up front, the Penguins return nearly all of last season’s starting unit, and each of the returners started in at least five games last season.

At receiver, Bryce Oliver hauled in a deep catch at one point during team drills. C.J. Charleston and Latrell Fordham, a transfer from Eastern Michigan, also worked into the mix.

Also of note on the offensive side, Alliance product Brandon Alexander has moved from quarterback to wide receiver. Springfield alum Beau Brungard is working out with quarterbacks behind Crenshaw and Mitch Davidson, who took second-team reps.

“They’re all looking good,” Crenshaw assessed. “The (offensive) line, I can’t wait to see what they’re going to do. They’re bigger, stronger, faster. So that’s what I would say jumps out to me.”

Defensively, the line also returns plenty of experience, including Dylan Wudke and James Jackson on the ends and Chris Fitzgerald, Hunter Allen and Andres Lehrmann, among others, are also back. The linebackers lost Grant Dixon, but brought in Western Illinois transfer Greg Benton, who joins a corps that includes Griffin Hoak, who had the second-most tackles on the team last year.

The secondary welcomed Ohio State transfer Marcus Hooker to its ranks Wednesday. He joins a unit that includes Warren G. Harding graduate Troy Jackubec as well as Quincy Lenton, Tyjon Jones and others with significant playing experience.

So far, Phillips likes how the Penguins have started.

“We’re lightyears ahead of where we were if you look at Day 1 a year ago to now,” he said. “That spring and what that allowed us to do with the kids, if you ask all of our players, their football IQs are up. They know the offense; they know the defense.”

Of the defense, he added, “We have to be sound. We have to be fundamentally sound. To come out here and work those fundamentals, that’s got to be the focus.”

And it’s that day-by-day process Phillips wants his team to focus on the most.

“If you go in the locker room, there’s not one opponent up on the schedule,” he noted. “We’re focusing on the Penguins. Where do we need to get better? Where do we need to build depth? That competition at every position and finding ways to come out every day and find a way to get better as a team (are the focus).”

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