Now that the 2013 season is well-behind, reflection and awards are handed out. Youngstown State University fell just short of the goal – making the playoffs, but there was plenty of positive that needs to be recognized.
For starters, the Penguins finished the season 8-4, winning two of every three games they played. More impressively is that the Penguins four losses, in hindsight, were to the team that won the Rose Bowl (Michigan State), the team that won the FCS Championship (North Dakota State), a team that advanced past the first round of the FCS Playoffs (South Dakota State), and a team that lost three conference overtime games in a row setting a record (UNI).
If the UNI loss seems like the one that got away, we later learned that Kurt Hess played the entire second half hurt, forcing the Penguins into a one-dimensional attack of just running. Coach Eric Wolford never pinned that loss on his quarterback, he took the blame for it, saying “This one is on me”. It came to light almost a whole week later that Hess was indeed injured.
This group of seniors (above) will be a tough bunch to replace. Hess started all four years he was here. But some of the unheralded players – the limping DJ Moss, the banged-up Dom Rich, the falling out of grace, yet remaining a team player, Torrian Pace, and the versatile Carson Sharbaugh will all be missed. Kyle Sirl ended up being one of my favorite all-time Penguins because he was fighting no matter what the score.
It was at East Lansing that I started developing such a respect for Sirl. Trailing Michigan State 35-10, Sirl came toward the sidelines, winded, beat up, and looked at me saying something along the lines of “We are going to make a run”. It would be understated to say he wasn’t giving it his all. YSU ended up losing 55-17. They did however, gain almost 100 yards more on the ground than Michigan would against a stingy Spartans defense.
On to the awards. As recently as today, several Penguins have received postseason awards. Hess was named to the FCS ADA Academic All-Star Team. Chris Elkins was named a Second-Team-All American by The Associated Press and Third Team by The Sports Network. Kyle Bryant was selected to play in the prestigious East-West Shrine Game, Elkins would later be named to join Bryant. Jelani Berassa was given another year of eligibility. Martin Ruiz, who finished tied for third for the Jerry Rice Award, and Jameel Smith made it onto the MVFC All-Newcomer team.
The coaching staff for the Penguins, seems to remain in place, for now. Ron Strollo has given Wolford a vote of confidence by publicly stating that he hopes Wolford is coaching the Penguins for a very long time. Wolford’s biggest steps of growth as a head coach were made this season. He seemed to be looser with the players, less vocal with the media, and was able to pinpoint his teams strengths from week-to-week with pretty good accuracy. Injuries are a part of the game, and adverse injuries, like the Hess situation the last three weeks, cannot be the grounds for calling Wolford or any of his coaches unworthy. Ride the horse that got you there. Hess was the horse, he just had bad timing with an uncontrollable injury.
The four new coaches – Mangino, Gallon, Beathard, and Bryant did good work for Wolford. Bricillo, Cochran, Stoops, Montgomery, Kopp, Davis, And Sims are a great supporting cast and the new guys enhanced the overall product.
2014 is right around the corner. Shane Montgomery is going to have the hardest assignment as an offensive coordinator losing Kurt Hess. As they recruit, they know what they need. Best of luck signing the players to push it to the next level. Oh, and 8-4 really wasn’t too bad!