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Jakubec, secondary welcomed surprises

YOUNGSTOWN — It wasn’t a good look for Troy Jakubec.

The Youngstown State corner appeared to be beat on a long pass down the sideline in a Feb. 27 game against Northern Iowa. Jakubec, a Warren G. Harding graduate, wasn’t beat. In fact, the deep area of the field wasn’t even his responsibility — and yet he covered it.

The lanky, 6-foot-1 Jakubec quickly caught up to the intended receiver, lunged in front of him and made a diving interception just before the goal line to save a touchdown.

“I was not beat,” Jakubec said with a grin. “I was the underneath player. I’ve seen a lot of that, people saying I was beat. Naw, I wasn’t beat. I just seen an opportunity to make a play, and I went and made it.”

It was the instinctual play of a veteran, not a redshirt freshman, but that’s the way he and the rest of the Penguins secondary have been playing all season — better than expected.

YSU (1-4) is third in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in allowing 152.6 passing yards per game. The three passing touchdowns allowed by the Penguins through five games is tied for tops in the conference. Jakubec and senior strong safety Zaire Jones are two big reasons why.

Jakubec has started all five games after making just one start in 2019 and playing sparingly in others. He leads YSU with four passes defensed (no one else has more than one). His 15 tackles are seventh best on the team, and being part of the run game is something he said he wanted to improve on because of his size (175 pounds).

Him being a quick study is a testament to Jakubec taking what coaches are telling him and applying it.

“He’s just coachable,” YSU head coach Doug Phillips said. “When you look at Troy, he takes everything in. We talk about the attention to detail in your footwork, hand placement, where your eyes are, and he has a great coach in coach (Ashton) Youboty. He has a lot of playing experience at Ohio State and the NFL, and he brings that experience. I believe our corners have bought into the techniques that coach Youboty is teaching them. Coach Youboty would say that Troy is very coachable. He takes everything that you teach him to the football field.”

That seems to be a theme in a secondary that has very little playing experience together.

Jones is a two-year starter and had a little playing time with Jakubec in 2019. Starting corner Keyon Martin is a true freshman.While safety Quincy Lenton is a senior, he just transferred in from the University of Florida a few months ago.

Jones, one of the team leaders, has played a big role in bringing it all together, but he won’t take any of the credit.

“For one, it’s guys’ effort and guys’ want to,” said Jones, who is third on the Penguins with 22 tackles and tied for the team lead with one interception. “Guys want to be better. We have younger guys playing, so they’re eating that stuff up that the coaches are giving them. Those coaches, our staff and the support system do a great job preparing us for opponents and keeping it in a simple scheme to where it looks very diverse when we we’re out there on the field. So, you’ve got to credit those guys giving us a system and a scheme to work with, and younger guys eating it up.”

Jakubec is enjoying the process.

He admitted the game was a little fast for him when he first joined YSU from Harding, but he said it’s starting to “slow down” and “come together” now. He knows he still has work to do in a lot of areas, but he has high expectations, and right now that’s being a role model for others.

“I like to believe so, yeah,” he said of being a leader. “Everyone is a leader in different ways. I feel like I’m a leader in just doing my job and leading by example on the field.”

The next step for him is to grow, physically.

Phillips raved about Jakubec’s retention of schemes and coaching points, but he also sees more potential with the freshman’s frame and overall strength.

“The one thing with Troy is we want him to eat more, we want him to get stronger,” Phillips said. “He’s been able to (play this well) without having that true offseason, so I can’t wait to see him have that true offseason where he can develop physically in his skill-work and his strength areas because he wants to be the very best. Three months ago, he sat down with our strength coach (and asked), ‘What can I do to put on weight? What can I do to get stronger?’ He would be one of those young men that is a doer. A lot want to talk about it, but they actually don’t do it. Troy is one where he doesn’t talk about it. He just does it. He doesn’t miss a beat in the weight room on the field or in film study.”

It shows on the field.

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