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Spring ball isn’t all bad for Penguins

Let’s start this column with a game. It’s called, “Words I never want to hear again after 2020.”

1. Social distancing. 2. COVID-19. 3. Mask up. 4. Fluid situation. 5. Spring football.

Feel free to email me your list. I’m curious to see which ones drive you mad.

I don’t know if Youngstown State football coach Doug Phillips would agree with me in regards to the “spring football” choice.

Sure, Phillips would have liked to coach some games in the fall as much as anyone. The first-time college head coach is a competitor and almost certainly wants to see how he can do as the head honcho and, more importantly, how his team will perform. And, really, who doesn’t like seeing the opening kickoff to a football game on a crisp fall afternoon? It’s a thing of beauty.

And yet, the decision by the Missouri Valley Football Conference to move football to the spring wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for Phillips and the Penguins. It’s tough enough for a first-year coach to make a fluid transition (darn it, I said fluid) in a matter of months. There are so many changes that occur — schemes, terminology, training, meshing personalities — but Phillips entered the fray without the benefit of spring practices.

In fact, he couldn’t even have in-person meetings with his team because the pandemic hit just one month after he was hired. The spring and most of the summer were wiped out, which curtailed Phillips’ chance to get acclimated with the team. Then training camp was going to be one of the shortest in recent history because YSU started its fall semester early. There was a lot working against Phillips.

You wouldn’t have known it by talking to him. Phillips often sounds like an optimist, finding the good in nearly every scenario. However, while he’s quite good at making the best of a bad situation, he’s also a realist and understands that building a football program takes time. He received a little more of it when the season got postponed, and Phillips isn’t wasting it despite the team taking a short break.

“We’re still meeting with them, just to clean up some of the things from last week,” Phillips said earlier this week. “But then we want to jump into the weight room in about a week and a half and really get into the developmental stage, kind of use this as a January, February and March (during a normal season) where you’re just developing kids to get bigger, stronger and faster.”

The Penguins didn’t have much time in the weight room during the spring, so this will help them physically. More importantly, they can learn some of the intricacies of the offense and defense and maybe (if they’re allowed) get to know Phillips and his staff a little better. Those are all things the Penguins and the coaching staff are going to need come spring time.

The MVFC is easily the best conference in the FCS, and YSU hasn’t exactly fared well in it lately. The Penguins are 36-44 in the league since 2010 and have never won it outright. They’ve struggled mightily against the top-tier teams and, the most obvious statistic, is they’ve only reached the playoffs twice since Jim Tressel left in 2001.

In other words, while there’s talent at YSU, Phillips has plenty of work to do. Changing the mindset of a program most likely won’t happen in one season, regardless of how long it takes before games starts, but the extra months of preparation will give him and the Penguins a better chance.

If the Big Ten didn’t move its season to the spring, the move might have helped monetarily as well, since YSU wouldn’t have had to compete with Ohio State for viewers, but hey, it’s 2020, nothing seems to work out the way people want. Maybe social distancing and having to mask up won’t be as prevalent if the fluid situation of COVID-19 isn’t as awful during spring football.

See what I did there? I’m just getting them all out of the way now.

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