YSU Penguins meet with biggest fans ahead of championship game

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – It’s been an exciting year for the Penguins and as 2016 comes to a close, the football team decided to have a meet-and-greet with some of its biggest fans.

In just over a week, Youngstown State University’s football team will take on James Madison in the FCS National Championship game in Frisco, Texas.

Before heading to Texas Wednesday, the football players teamed up with the basketball players to snap a few selfies and sign autographs in Beeghly Center for about 100 adoring fans.

Penguin pride runs deep in Youngstown, especially for those standing in line Thursday night to wish the football team good luck.

“It’s exciting, you know? Watching them, being able to see them on TV and now for the national championship,” said YSU alumna Barbara Balestrino. “Being from Youngstown, it’s so exciting.”

Everyone, from those in the athletic department to the players themselves, knows this is a special time for the city.

“Obviously, there’s only two teams in the country still playing football and we’re one of them,” said Rick Love, YSU’s assistant athletic director. “It’s a special year if you’re still playing in January.”

Quarterback Hunter Wells said there’s a great show of support from the community.

“It shows just how important this is to Youngstown and what it’s like to kind of have the culture back in this town and city.”

Wells and tight end Kevin Rader were two of the big play-makers from the semi-final game in Washington. They snapped pictures with even the youngest fans, creating a lifelong memory.

“That’s really good to see, that these young kids are influenced by what we do on a day-to-day basis,” Rader said.

One of those little Penguins was 6-year-old Caiden Hernandez.

“I was really excited! I never got the chance to meet ’em!”

Even the die-hard fans who will be heading down to Texas for the game couldn’t leave without meeting the team.

“I’ve been to every single game, even the road games. So just watching them progress through the season, get better and better, just everything happening is amazing,” Cade Galloway said.

If you missed the player meet-and-greet, you still have a chance to wish them luck. YSU’s Office for Alumni Engagement is planning a send-off rally for the football team next Wednesday.