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Spring into action

YSU football focused on what’s next

Submitted photo / Youngstown State University Youngstown State University football coach Doug Phillips looks around during a recent session with his team. The Penguins won’t play games this fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but is looking toward the springtime and possibly playing.

Preseason camp was already going to be shorter than what Youngstown State University football coach Doug Phillips was used to experiencing because YSU’s fall semester began earlier than usual.

Camp ended up being even shorter.

The Penguins only got four days of camp in before it was announced there would be no fall football games at Stambaugh Stadium this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. YSU was still in the acclimation period, which is when coaches gradually increase the physicality of practice before full contact can begin, so no pads were popping during the four days.

Despite the short camp and the fact that the Missouri Valley Football Conference moved the league schedule to the spring, camp was a positive experience for the Penguins. The simple nuances of practice are different nowadays because of the guidelines, and YSU was welcoming in a new coaching staff that was doing everything for the first time.

“We went through the practice schedule, how to get on the field, off the field because there are so many moving pieces — dressing in the locker room, pre-practice flex, just to make sure you’re social distancing,” Phillips said. “To get through all that was good. It was a learning experience. We haven’t coached these kids, so it’s a learning experience for our coaches, our trainers, our strength coaches, our players. It only benefits us down the road.”

So, now what?

With the MVFC going the way of spring football, the Penguins are taking a break as the fall semester begins at YSU. A break isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the Penguins.

Phillips and his staff have more time to implement a new offensive and defensive system, different training regiments and it helps coaches and players get to know one another better. YSU only had a couple weeks of spring practices before the quarantine began in March. The Penguins met virtually during April and May and were only able to have workouts with trainers and strength coaches in June.

So, while Phillips wasn’t exactly happy with fall football being postponed, he is anxious to see what type of workouts and practices the NCAA and MVFC will allow in the coming months.

“Talking to the league commissioner and our head coaches, (MVFC commissioner Patty Viverito) has given us the thumbs up, and everyone agrees that there needs to be some sort of practice (in the fall),” Phillips said. “We have these kids on campus, they’re in shape, they’re ready to go. Whether it’s five hours of skill work a week. Whether it’s 20 hours and it’s like spring football where you have 15 or 30 days to get those practices in. … The NCAA will come back with the parameters of what we’re able to do this fall.”

The Penguins are still doing some football-related activities.

Phillips said they’re allowed 20 hours per week, and that can be spent in the weight room, doing walkthroughs or holding meetings. YSU is focused on building what they’ve already established over the past few months.

“We’ve done so many walkthroughs to this point, we’re kind of holding off on them,” Phillips said. “We may do a walkthrough next week just to clean up what we did Week 1. But with our kids right now, we want to get in the weight room. I like what I see in our football team, but now we’ve got to develop them physically, mentally and socially.”

The social aspect isn’t lost on Phillips, even though it may be with others.

The New Middletown native may be a first-year college head coach, but he has been around the game most of his life, and he said it can be an escape for both players and coaches. The stress and chaos that the pandemic and other national issues created weigh on everyone, and playing sports allow people to step away from the difficulties they’re encountering.

“We’ve been doing Zoom meetings and using FaceTime and meeting, so (it was important) just to get them on the field and play football,” he said of camp. “The social aspects of what football brings, I think sometimes we lose that.

“Everyone just thinks it’s about Xs and Os, but it’s more about developing a team,” he added. “It’s about kids that may be stressed out about family, may be stressed out about the social economics of this whole thing, but it’s an outlet for 2 hours to go and do the game they love and the game that they came here to do. You lose that piece of it when you’re not able to play. Our kids, to see a smile on their face and to be able enjoy that and have fun, that was great for us to see.”

He hopes to see more of it in the spring.

Phillips said he has not received any details regarding the spring season yet, and he’s not overly concerned about it right now. He also hasn’t thought of what he and the team will do if, when the spring season is over, the Penguins must immediately start preparing for a 2020 fall season.

There are too many scenarios to ponder, so Phillips is staying focused on the here and now.

“That’s the kind of approach we took with the kids,” he said. “I told them, I don’t work on a schedule past tomorrow because things are changing. I don’t want to raise their hopes and crush them. There’s no guarantee we’re going to play in the spring. There’s no guarantee we’re going to play in the fall. But what is guaranteed is if I have practice with you, it’s guaranteed we’re going to make you better football players. … That’s where I try to kind of focus, and it’s kept my sanity.”

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