by P. Carl Giordano, Managing Editor

Kent State fired head coach Doug Martin after he failed to produce a winning record in seven straight years at the helm. As a result, Darrell Hazell moves over from his position as assistant head coach for the last six seasons at Ohio State and becomes a head coach for the first time in his 26-year career. Ironically, had Hazell stayed put at Columbus, he might have taken over the Buckeyes when the NCAA and the OSU administration came down on the program’s and parted ways with Jim Tressel (or he might’ve been deemed culpable and exited along with the humiliated “Vest”). At any rate, Hazell has a new team and hopes to surprise the Golden Flash faithful.

On arrival in the spring, Hazell commented he felt the talent level was much higher than he had anticipated. He also had some success recruiting, snagging a couple of talented players that might help right away. Offensively, A brewing QB fight was decided by default when Giorgio Morgan left the team and ceded the starting spot to holdover Spencer Keith. Keith’s numbers were far from scintillating last season, as he ranked 93rd in pass efficiency. He’s thrown for 4359 yards, completed 58% and tossed as many TDS as interceptions (22) in 19 starts over the last two seasons. Landry Jones, he’s not. Still, it’s very doubtful either physical redshirt frosh Cedric McCloud or little-used sr. Sal Battles will play well enough to get many reps, so it’s Keith’s job for better or worse.

Keith will have an experienced offensive line to work with, as four starters return from last season, including third-team all-MAC selections jr. LT Brian Winters and sr. C Chris Anzevino (both have started all 24 games the last two seasons). The attack almost has nowhere to go but up, as the Flash offense ranked 102nd last season, gaining just 313 yds. per game. Sr. RB Jacquise Terry returns after leading the team in rushing last season, but don’t get too excited, as he gained just 3.6 ypc and 542 net last year. Kent State should convert a bit better in the redzone, as true frosh RB Trayion Durham is a new type of back for the Flash attack. After relying on small runners the last few years in Terry (183 lbs.), backups jr. Dri Archer (162) &RS frosh Robert Holloman (170), and graduated star Eugene Jarvis (weighed 170 soaking wet), Hazell recruited Durham. The frosh from Cincinnati is a battering-ram of a finisher who weighs 257-pounds. Built along the lines of Jerome Bettis, Durham has impressed early and is likely to give the Flash offense considerably more punch on third down and at the goal line. Kent State converted just 31% on third down last season.

Keith’s receivers are reliable vets. Junior WR Tyshon Goode caught 59 passes and was named to the second-team all-MAC team last year, while sr. flanker Sam Kirkland made the third team all-conference list thanks to his 56 catches.

The defense was the best in the MAC and fourth in the nation at stopping the run, third nationally in tackles-for-loss, while leading the MAC in sacks, but d.c. Jon Heacock will have to find playmakers capable of replacing a trio of stars that combined for 266 tackles, ranking 1-2-3 on the team. Kent has a couple of aces remaining, however, as MAC Defensive Player of the Year Roosevelt Nix returns for his sophomore season. Nix totaled just 43 tackles as a true frosh, but 20 of those stops were for losses (10 sacks). Nix is a one-man wrecking crew, and he’ll be joined up front by a pair of fifth-year seniors in DE Lee Stalker and NT Ishmaa’ily Kitchen. Heacock and the rest of the coaching staff have been extremely impressed with the work of soph DE Richard Gray, a 277-pound destroyer who tore up camp last August, but couldn’t get cleared academically by the NCAA and lost his freshman year of eligibility when he didn’t qualify. Gray dwarfs Nix and will be a major factor very quickly.

MLB Luke Batton (68 tackles) is good by MAC standards, but he missed spring practice and needs help on the outside, where both starting LBs graduated. Senior CBs Norman Wolfe (75 stops and 5 ints. LY; 2nd team all-MAC) and Josh Pleasant (made all-MAC 2nd & 3rd teams the last two seasons) certainly have credentials. But both safeties are new and everyone is absorbing a new system. Incoming frosh S Devante’ Strickland might end up as a regular back there. “Probably the most physical guy I've seen in a long time coming out of high school," Hazell said.

The kicking game boasts Matt Rinehart, the MAC’s best punter, and PK Freddy Cortez, who’s made 47 straight extra points.

Summary...Hazell comes from a very high-level program at Columbus, and he didn’t rise to the assistant head coach spot without sealing the deal of his share of recruits. His credentials allow him entree to living rooms that ex-HC Doug Martin was never afforded, and his familiarity with Ohio translated into 13 home-state recruits coming to Kent. It’s a possibility that, given a little time, the Golden Flashes can shake a decade-long slump. Kent State hasn’t posted a winning record since 2001, and hasn’t been to a bowl game since Don James' coaching days in 1972, so don’t hold your breath on a MAC Championship game appearance just yet. Something always seems to cause Kent to crash and burn down the stretch (Golden Flashes are 5-15-1 vs. the points in November the last six years!).

Return To Home Page