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YSU’s Becker alone up front

Youngstown State offensive linemen Dan Becker (right) and Jacob Zinni, a West Branch graduate, block Howard’s Zamin Robinson on Sept. 7. (Photo by Ron Firth)

YOUNGSTOWN — Playing football at Youngstown State University seemed to be a few years away when Dan Becker left Indian Hill High School near Cincinnati.

Becker was a star middle linebacker in high school, but at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, that position didn’t seem to be the right fit for him in college. When he was being recruited by former YSU offensive coordinator Shane Montgomery, he said the Penguins weren’t really sure where they were going to play him.

“They took a chance on me,” he said, “and I took a chance on them.”

It didn’t take long for Becker to find his niche.

After playing sparingly on the offensive line at Indian Hill, YSU made the decision to put Becker up front. He was redshirted his first year with the Penguins, and he put on 40 pounds that season as he transitioned to becoming a lineman, but the gains weren’t exactly what he envisioned.

His nutrition suffered as he packed on the pounds. Becker, now a junior at YSU, still found ways to develop as a lineman, becoming a full-time starter as a redshirt freshman.

“My freshman year, I was constantly asked about my weight from my coaches and constantly forced, almost, to eat food and calories,” he said. “They were foods I really shouldn’t have been eating as an athlete. Throughout the season, I would lose the weight, and I would get back to 260ish, which is way too light.

“I finally found out this past season, especially this offseason, that when I eat more healthy foods, instead of the junk foods that usually make people gain weight, I’ve gained a tremendous amount of weight. And I feel even better and look skinnier than I did before.”

Evolving has been integral to Becker’s blossoming career, and it could be even more important to the Penguins in 2020.

The left tackle is the only returning starter on the offensive line for YSU. That may not be a terrible thing as the Penguins endured an inconsistent season that saw them allow 31 sacks (seventh out of 10 teams in the conference). The rushing attack was up and down as well.

First-year coach Doug Phillips brings with him a new offensive system, and with the COVID-19 pandemic canceling the majority of spring practices, it could be hard for a new group to grasp all the concepts. Phillips, however, also brings with him different philosophies as far as what leads to success on the offensive line.

“They’ve got to care for each other,” Phillips said. “When you’re in the trenches, and it’s not trenches like in a war, but the trench, what they used to say was, you’re not only fighting for yourself, you’re fighting for the guy to the right of you and to the left of you.

“So, those guys better care for each other, they better fight for each other and they better have each other’s back.”

This is one of several areas on which Becker and Phillips agree.

The two have a mutual respect for one another, despite only having a few talks in person. Becker says he appreciates Phillips’ caring and upfront approach, and Phillips said he feels the same way about Becker’s work ethic, skill and football IQ.

They’re also realistic. They know bringing along four new starters is going to be a difficult task. Still, Becker sees mores positives than negatives.

“The past two years, I played with completely new guys every year, so we never really had that camaraderie or uniqueness about us,” said Becker, who added that having offensive line coach John Peterson return to the staff was beneficial. “This year, we didn’t really bring in any transfers. All of us have been together for so long that we’re all really comfortable with each other. Those are some of my best friends that I’m playing with this year. That’s going to really help us out.”

Becker is currently rehabbing from a torn labrum in his shoulder. He suffered the injury early last season but played through the pain to start all 12 games and earn honorable mention all-conference honors.

He said he’s nearing 100 percent after having surgery in December. His weight is around 300 pounds, but he feels as healthy as he has since he came to YSU. He admits he is anxious to get back on the field. Phillips is anxious as well.

“As soon as we can, we want to get him back and get him so he’s a full 100 percent because we’re going to need him,” he said. “We’re going to be young up front. We’re going to have some guys that haven’t played a lot of reps, and so we’re going to lean on him a lot this coming season.”

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