Rushton leads locals to YSU football

YOUNGSTOWN — Not many things put a smile on a kid’s face like a snow day, so there were plenty of smiles in the Mahoning Valley on Wednesday.

But for once, canceling school actually disappointed quite a few kids — and coaches.

The inclement weather put a damper on National Signing Day at Youngstown State University. With school canceled, several area players who intended on signing their National Letters of Intent during school hours before sending it to their respective school couldn’t do it when they expected, and because of the delay, coaches weren’t able to comment on those players.

YSU’s Bo Pelini was one of those coaches.

“There are some guys, especially locally, that are going to be joining our program,” said Pelini, who wasn’t allowed to name the players during his 10 a.m. press conference due to NCAA regulations. “With Twitter and all that stuff out there, a lot of people know who those gentlemen are, but with the schools not being in, there are some guys we can’t announce just yet.”

As the day went on, more paperwork came in, and thus, so did the names.

The headliner was Liberty’s Dra Rushton, the 2017 Trumbull County Player of the Year. Rushton wasn’t on the Penguins’ initial list of signees as they awaited his letter of intent, but the two-way star was later added.

Rushton, who was being courted by several other colleges, was listed as a tailback by YSU, but with incredible speed and athleticism, he could play a number of positions. He starred for the Leopards as a quarterback. More of a runner than a passer, the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Rushton ran for 1,414 yards and passed for 954 yards while accounting for 36 total touchdowns. He also starred on defense as a defensive back and as a punt/kick returner.

“This class is a mix of kids from out of state, (but) the majority are going to be more local guys — Ohio kids, western Pennsylvania kids,” Pelini said. “So locally, around here, we’re going to be very well represented.”

Along with Rushton will be players from Girard, Cardinal Mooney, Ursuline, Austintown Fitch, Canfield, Poland, Salem and Beaver Local.

Some of the more well-known names are Girard’s Michael Belcik, a 6-0 wide receiver who caught 81 passes for 1,546 yards and 18 TDs as a senior; Cardinal Mooney’s Vinny Gentile, a two-way lineman for the Cardinals who had 11 tackles for loss and four sacks last year and will play defense for the Penguins; Ursuline’s Jared Fabry, a former dual-threat quarterback for the Irish who will likely play receiver at YSU.

Other Mahoning Valley players reportedly set to join the Penguins are: Randy Smith (Fitch), Nick DeSalvo (Fitch), Vinny Fiorenza (Canfield), Paul French (Canfield), Mike Diaz (Poland), Jonah Spencer (Poland), Mitch Davidson (Salem), Michael Clendenning (Beaver Local) and Zach Thomas (Beaver Local).

The trend is one Pelini believes is a sign of the university making improvements.

“It says a lot about Youngstown State and what President (Jim) Tressel, the faculty and everyone involved has going here,” Pelini said. “Probably more so than anytime I can remember, Youngstown State, as an institution, is a destination for local kids. You don’t have to go down to Columbus or Pittsburgh or wherever to find a high-quality education and one where you’re going to have a really good college experience.”

Some other non-local players who joined during the early signing period in December and will be part of spring practices, which start Sunday, were Montgomery VanGorder, a quarterback who transferred from the University of Notre Dame and has one year of eligibility remaining; Kierre Hawkins, a 6-3, 250-pound tight end who transferred from Ohio State and has three years of eligibility; and Zach Farrar, a 6-4, 215-pound wide receiver who transferred from Oklahoma and has three years of eligibility. Another notable addition was Henry Yoboue, a 6-8, 310-pound offensive lineman who’s originally from the Ivory Coast. Yoboue, from ASA College, was reportedly headed to University of Alabama-Birmingham up until this weekend.

Pelini said he expects transfers or junior college players to immediately compete for a starting spot.

COORDINATORS NAMED: Pelini also announced new offensive and defensive coordinators after losing both following the 2017 season.

Wide receivers coach Brian Crist was promoted to offensive coordinator, taking over for Shane Montgomery, who left for the same position at UNC-Charlotte. Crist has nearly 25 years of collegiate coaching experience and was part of Pelini’s staff at Nebraska in 2014. He also worked at UMass for 10 years, coaching quarterbacks, wide receivers, tight ends and special teams during his tenure.

The Penguins will have co-defensive coordinators in Richard McNutt and Donald D’Alesio. McNutt has coached YSU’s defensive backs the last three years, with the Penguins finishing No. 1 in the FCS in passing yards allowed during two of those seasons. An Ohio State grad, McNutt also coached in the NFL as an assistant with the Cleveland Browns.

D’Alesio, a Cardinal Mooney graduate and former YSU player, coached the Penguins’ defensive line the last three years. He played a role in helping former YSU players Derek Rivers and Avery Moss reach the NFL. He worked firsthand with former defensive line coach and eventual defensive coordinator Carl Pelini, who left his coordinator post for the same role with Bowling Green.