YSU ready for another Big Ten test

Head Coach Eric Wolford leads the Penguins against Illinois this Saturday, their fourth Big Ten opponent since 2006.

Youngstown, OH (WYTV)- The 21st-ranked Youngstown State football team plays its season opener on Saturday at Illinois. Kickoff against the Fighting Illini is set for Noon Eastern time/11 a.m. Central time. The game is available on WKBN 570 AM, iHeartRadio and is on the Big Ten Network.

YSU, which posted an 8-4 mark last year, will be opening its 74th season this weekend. The Penguins own an all-time mark of 41-30-2 in season-opening games since the program originated in 1938.

Despite losing a four-year starting quarterback, the Penguins are ranked higher entering the 2014 slate than last season (24th) and were picked to finish fourth in the Missouri Valley Football Conference after being tabbed fifth a year ago. The Guins posted a 5-3 conference mark and tied for second with three other teams in the MVFC standingsin 2013.

Junior QB Dante Nania will make his first start in the season opener. Nania was the primary backup to four-year starter Kurt Hess the past two years and now gets his chance as the starter. He has a strong backfield to rely on, led by second-team All-MVFC pick Martin Ruiz. Ruiz was named the Valley Football Newcomer and Freshman of the Year last season for his efforts. A stable of backs featuring Ruiz, Jody Webb, Demond Hymes and Ryan Moore could all see action. The receiving corps is long on experience with seniors Christian Bryan and Jelani Berassa as well as juniors Andrew Williams, Andre Stubbs and Michael Wheary.

On defense, three of four starters from last year’s secondary and three of four starters from the defensive line return. In the secondary, FS Donald D’Alesio, SS Jameel Smith and CB Julius Childs are back while up front, Emmanuel Kromah, Steve Zaborsky and Terrell Williams return.

Illinois, which was 4-8 last year, defeated MVFC member Southern Illinois in its opener last season. YSU Head Coach Eric Wolford was an assistant for the Fighting Illinois in 2007 and 2008 under Ron Zook.

The Penguins start a three-game homestand on Sept. 6 when they entertain Duquesne of the Northeast Conference at Stambaugh Stadium.

Courtesy: YSU Sports Information

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