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Testing YSU Penguins QB
There was no easing into his role as Youngstown State’s starting quarterback for Kurt Hess a year ago. The then-freshman’s first college game was a start against Penn State at Beaver Stadium.
If Hess was nervous, it didn’t show. The Dayton native used an array of short throws and his quick release to complete 21 of 25 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Dominique Barnes turned one of his 11 receptions into an 80-yard touchdown late in the first quarter.
The Penguins actually led the Nittany Lions, 7-6, after one quarter. Penn State took control with a touchdown and a field goal in the final one minute and 20 seconds of the first half and pulled away for a 44-14 victory.
Hess started all 11 games for YSU last season. He completed 179 of 304 passes for 2,117 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was intercepted eight times.
Michigan State, another Big Ten Conference foe, awaits Hess and the Penguins on Friday night at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich.
“I’m definitely more prepared this year,” Hess said. “I feel a little bit more seasoned having 11 games of experience. We’re playing against a Big Ten opponent in a Big Ten place, but I feel more experienced and more comfortable with where I am.”
Many Football Championship Subdivision - once known as Division I-AA - teams open their seasons with so-called “money games” against Football Bowl Subdivision teams like Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State and YSU is no exception. The Penguins have played the Buckeyes, Nittany Lions and Pittsburgh Panthers in recent years.
Hess said the Penguins aren’t just in it for the money.
“It’s a game on our schedule,” he said. “You see them printed everywhere. You see the schedule. It’s a game on our schedule. All 11 of them, we plan on winning. … We’re not trying to make money. We’re not going up there for a moral victory.”
Second-year YSU coach Eric Wolford said he wants the Penguins to play “four quarters of Youngstown football and see what happens.”
“Last year, the talk was, ‘Can you score a touchdown against a BCS team?’ That was the big talk and we scored one,” Wolford said. “We played two quarters of football. I would like to see us play four quarters.”
Finishing games has been a recurring theme for the Penguins as they looked back at a 3-8 record in 2010 and prepared for 2011. YSU was in every game in Wolford’s first season and probably could have doubled its victory total with a few key defensive stops in the fourth quarter.
That fact is not lost on Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio.
“Youngstown State is a football team that returns (15) starters from last year’s football team,” he said. “I think it’s very unique that they’re a football team that was ahead in every single game they played last year, so they’ve just got to be able to hold onto that a little bit. But I think great things are ahead for coach Wolford and his staff there.”
The Spartans were 11-2 overall and 7-1 in the Big Ten last season, sharing the championship with Wisconsin and Ohio State. The Buckeyes, however, eventually vacated the 2010 season in the wake of the tattoo-related scandal that cost former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel his job.
Dantonio and Tressel have a history at YSU. Dantonio, a Zanesville native, was an assistant on Tressel’s staff with the Penguins from 1986-90. The two eventually were reunited at Ohio State before Dantonio became the head coach at Cincinnati and then Michigan State.
In addition, Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is the son of former YSU coach Bill Narduzzi, who preceded Tressel as the Penguins coach from 1975-85. Michigan State linebackers and special teams coach Mike Tressel is the nephew of the former Ohio State coach.
Despite the obvious differences in talent and depth between the typical FCS and FBS programs, Dantonio was complimentary of the Penguins.
“The quarterback Hess is a guy that was Freshman of the Year (in the Missouri Valley Conference) last year,” Dantonio said. “I think he forms the nucleus for their football team and he sort of makes them go. They have good tailbacks in (Adaris) Bellamy and (Jamaine) Cook. They were a football team last year that had a lot of offensive production. They return seven starters on defense, and so I think that’s where they’ll probably make some of their greatest strides.”
Wolford was cautious about putting too much emphasis on opening against a Big Ten opponent.
“There’s a fine line there,” he said. “You can build this game up to be something big and then there’s a pitfall there if you don’t play well. Last year, what I talked to our players about was, ‘Go out and execute the game plan and play like you’re capable of.’ “
The Penguins did that for a half. Wolford wants them to finish the job this time.
CAPTAINS: YSU’s players elected captains over the weekend. They are Hess and Cook on offense and linebacker John Sasson and defensive tackle Andrew Johnson on defense. Hess and Cook, a junior, are underclassmen. Sasson and Johnson are seniors.
FEEDING THE HUNGRY: Wolford and First Place Bank CEO Steve Lewis announced the kickoff of the “Spread The Red to Feed Hungry Families” campaign just prior to Tuesday’s news conference at the DeBartolo Stadium Club. The drive is set to begin officially on Thursday at the Canfield Fair, but several other community events are planned to raise funds for the Second Harvest Food Bank.
By ED PUSKAS , Tribune Chronicle