About Kent State Golden Flash
By Pete Fiutak
Most college football fans didn’t notice, but Kent State became one of the MAC’s biggest stories in 2004 with the league’s best defense and a four game winning streak to end the season. Granted, it beat the dregs of the league and failed against teams like Central Michigan, Akron and Rutgers, but there’s still reason to get extremely excited for this year and think this will be a player in the East.
Now the goal is to build on the momentum and start beating the bigger teams on the schedule to get to a bowl game and become one of the league’s more dangerous programs. There are several questions, mostly on offense, but they should be answered early on with Alabama transfer and former minor league baseball player Michael Machen starting at quarterback and several good receivers appearing ready to fill the void left by star receiver Darrell Dowery. The running game will be the biggest issue early.
The defense should be the best in the MAC again, or at least come very close with enough playmakers to carry the team to a big season. So is Kent State ready to deal with expectations? The defense should be able to live up to any hype leading a run in the solid MAC East, and head coach Doug Martin will quickly become one of college football’s hotter new stars.
The Schedule: The two biggest MAC East games, Miami and Bowling Green, will come to Kent State while the toughest league road game will likely be at Akron. That’s not bad. The toughest stretch is early following the showdown with the RedHawks with four road games in five weeks with the one home date against Northern Illinois.
Best Offensive Player: Senior WR Derrick Bush. While not listed as a starter coming out of spring ball, he’s the team’s steadiest returning receiver and will be a top kick returner. He can also be used as a runner and, if desperately needed, to throw the ball.
Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Justin Parrish. He plays a hybrid of linebacker and defensive end as one of the nation’s best pass rushers. He’ll be camped out in opposing backfields after cranking out 14 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss last season.
Key players to a successful season: RBs Luke Tillman and Jon Drager. Tillman is a former tight end/H-Back and Drager is coming back from a knee injury. Considering that projected starting QB Michael Machen isn’t going to be nearly the runner Joshua Cribbs was, and top back David Alston is gone, these two backs will have to shine right away.
The season will be a success if … Kent State goes to a bowl game. There’s too much experience and the MAC schedule too favorable to shoot for anything less than seven wins and be in the mix for the post-season.
As preseason football guides begin to hit the newsstand, Kent State expectations are building. Phil Steele’s 2006 College Football Preview, one of the premier preseason publications, predicts the 2006 Kent State football team will be one of the most-improved teams in the country, will win the Mid-American Conference East Division and play in the MAC championship game.
Steele states that “Kent State will have one of the most improved offenses in the country” and further states that the “defense with nine starters returning will resemble the top-notch 2004 group.” The Golden Flashes also have 10 players named to Phil Steele’s 2006 MAC Team, including three first-team selections. Named to the first team are returning All-MAC defensive end Danny Muir; guard Michael Galassi and cornerback Jack Williams.
Also, earning preseason All-MAC accolades from Steele are wide receiver Najah Pruden (second team), guard Craig Rafal (third team), defensive lineman Colin Ferrell (third team), strong safety Fritz Jacques (third team), running back Eugene Jarvis (fourth team), punt returner Jon Drager (fourth team) and center Kiff Kinkead (honorable mention).
About the Enemy: Minnesota Golden Golphers
Minnesota Ranked 8th in Big Ten
From College Football News
Predicted record: 5-7 Conf. record: 2-6
Best Player: TE Matt Spaeth, Sr.
Offense – Offensive coordinator Mitch Browning has his work cut out for him and the Gopher system. After finishing seventh in the nation in total offense, tenth in scoring and third in rushing, Minnesota has to replace star tailback Laurence Maroney and, possibly, Gary Russell, who’s doubtful thanks to academic issues. There’s almost no depth anywhere, but the starters should be solid as long as they’re healthy. Amir Pinnix is a small, quick back who’ll carry the load early on, while the passing game should be serviceable with veteran quarterback Bryan Cupito back along with starting wideouts Ernie Wheelwright and Logan Payne. The whole is better than the sum of the parts on the line.
Defense – The Gopher D always tries hard and it has its moments, but it doesn’t have the talent or athleticism to hang with the better offenses. The front four is undersized and the back seven is a bit slow, so it’s a full defensive effort to keep the dam from breaking. Sometimes it works, sometimes it gets ugly. Sophomores Steve Davis and end and Dominic Jones at safety are good young players to build around, while there are enough veterans and enough experience to hope for a more consistent season.
This season will be a success if … Minnesota wins seven games and goes to another bowl. There are enough layups to have a nice base of four wins, and some upsets have to come.
The Schedule: The non-conference schedule would be a total joke if it wasn’t for the tremendous test at California sandwiched in between scrimmages against Kent State and Temple.
Comments from head coach Glen Mason
(formerly at Kent State 1986-87)
“I start every year talking about how special this is for me personally. I had a great summer and enjoyed myself more this past summer than I have in awhile. With about a week and a half to go before camp I found myself not wanting the summer to end. I was worried about that because if you don’t have the right enthusiasm to enter this thing there is something wrong. But the last weekend I couldn’t wait for summer to be over with so we could get onto football. I love this time of year and the start of two-a-day practices is probably the most important.
“As we speak right now we have 102 guys in camp, 71 of them being upperclassmen, 28 freshmen and three transfers.
“Some players who are not in camp include: Mark Mullaney; Nhemie Theodore; Brandon Owens; Brian Moss; Pat McCarthy; Jason Lamers; Josh Wiltsie; James Tindall; and Marcel Jones.
“I always get asked about position changes. Typically this time of year there aren’t many, but there are two that I will mention. Freshman D.J. Burris is a player we recruited to be an offensive lineman, but I’ve decided to start him out on defense. I’ve talked long and hard about not having the depth at running back we’ve all become accustomed to around here, so yesterday I moved Alex Daniels to running back. We have to get creative because we still want to run the football.
On quarterback Bryan Cupito
“This year seems to be the year of the quarterback in the Big Ten Conference. Nine or ten teams return veteran quarterbacks and we happen to be one of them. I look for Bryan Cupito to have an exceptional year for us. He’s played pretty good football the last two years and during spring practice he was far superior. He’s always been an accurate passer. He’s been a smart and durable guy. He has an air of confidence about him right now and an air of leadership and he’s throwing the ball pretty well. We look for him to have an exceptional year.”
On the offensive line
“We lost some good offensive linemen. I miss some of those guys even more than I would have anticipated, not just because they were great football players but because they were great people. But we will have a good offensive line again. Maybe fortunate is the wrong word, but when Joe Ainslie broke his hand in the opener against Tulsa, it really allowed Steve Shidell to step in and gain some valuable experience. In saying that, we really return three starters at that position which gives us some flexibility and enabled us to move Tony Brinkhaus to center. We have enough pieces there that I really believe we’ll be good on the offensive line again.”
On the tight ends
“Our tight end position is solid. Matt Spaeth is an exceptional tight end. He’s a dominant blocker at that position and is a good pass receiver as well. Hopefully we’ll throw more to him this year.”
On the wide receivers
“I feel good about our wide receiving corps. We don’t have great numbers there, but collectively they’re the best we’ve had. We have two proven veterans in Ernie Wheelwright and Logan Payne, and the two young guys I’m excited to see are Eric Decker and Mike Chambers. I second-guessed myself from midway on that I probably should have played them last year. They really could have helped us.”
On the running backs
“We’ll have to see how they can collectively do as a group to pick up where we’ve performed the last couple of years. Amir Pinnix appears to be the heir apparent based on his performance in the past. Jay Thomas is a guy we redshirted last year and then didn’t get to evaluate him in the spring because he was hurt. Brylee Callender went through an adjustment period, but he probably performed best during spring practice. He worked tremendously hard this summer. I’m anxious to see how he’ll perform. Justin Valentine has been used in a multitude of positions and we may have even overused him. He might have to be one of those running backs we’re talking about.
“As soon as I mention that you might see a little different offense from us, people assume we’re going to go from run, run, run to pass, pass, pass. We’re not going to do that. We’ve run the ball exceptionally well, and if anything we’ve been underrated throwing the ball. We haven’t utilized our passing game as much as we could have because we’ve run the ball so effectively. When I look at us right now I’m a little uncertain about the running back position, but I’m confident in our quarterback and the decision he’ll make. I’m confident in his throwing ability and I’m confident in our receivers, so that’s why I think you’ll see us throw the ball more effectively.”
On the defense
“I don’t know how many years I’ve stood up here and said we have to get better on defense and that’s the truth. If we legitimately want to compete for a championship in this league we have to play better defense than we’ve been playing. That’s easier said than done. It’s harder to play rock solid defense than it is to play rock solid offense. On defense, you have to be strong across the board, because the offenses in this league know where you’re weak and they’ll keep exploiting it.
“We’re awfully young on defense, but at the same time I’m confident we’ll be better. I liked what I saw during spring practice. There are some guys coming of age. We had two freshmen, Willie VanDeSteeg and Steve Davis, who played remarkably well as true freshmen. If you can play well as a true freshman in the Big Ten Conference, you’re only going to get better as time goes on.
“We’re taking on an all new look at the defensive tackle position. We might have to be a little creative at that position just like at tailback.
“We have more flexibility in the secondary. We have more experience coming back and we have a lot of skill back there.”
On the kicking game
“We return our punter and kicker so we should be better in that phase. We spent an inordinate amount of time in spring practice to improve in that area from a coaching perspective.”
On the linebackers
“I feel pretty good if we can keep them healthy. Durability is a big factor in the whole thing. We don’t have great depth at that position, but John Shevlin, Mike Sherels and Mario Reese have played a lot of football, so we’re returning a lot of experience there.”
On the supporting cast on offense
“The question revolves around the ability we have had to run the football. We’re going to have to be a little more wide open than that, but we’ll be all right. Since I’ve been here we haven’t always had pro-type running backs and yet were still effective at running the football. Bryan Cupito is more capable than anybody we’ve had around here to run our offense.”
On the running backs being able to hold up the entire season
“The question regarding running backs always revolves around how durable you are. At any level, a running back takes a beating. The hardest thing in football is getting tackled.”
On his confidence in Tony Brinkhaus playing center
“We were confident moving Brinkhaus to center because we know him so well. It’s a tough position to play but he’s a smart guy. Is he going to be the same as Greg Eslinger – no. Eslinger was the best I’ve ever seen at that position with the things he was able to do. But I’m comfortable with Brinkhaus because he’s determined and he’s mentally stable. He’s not going to get down. We never saw any reason why it wouldn’t work out.”
On the schedule
“We’re going to open at Kent State on a Thursday night, which is good because it will give us a little extra time to prepare for Cal, who will be in everybody’s top-15. But I’ve never worried about going on the road to play. Even now in the Big Ten, I love going on the road to play to see the colorful settings. I don’t dread going to those places. I’m not saying they’re not tough places to play because they are, but I look forward to it.”
Revamping the Kent State Football Program
By Kimberly Thompson, ’06
Prior to the 2005 season, the Kent State University football team posted its best back-to-back record since 1987-88 and seemed to be moving in the right direction. In 22 games under Doug Martin’s leadership, first as offensive coordinator and then as head coach, the Flashes scored 656 points, the highest two-year point total in school history.
“In 2003, we had an awesome offense under Doug Martin, so we promoted him to head coach,” says Kent State Athletic Director Laing Kennedy.
That decision also reflected Martin’s success as offensive coordinator at East Carolina University,and the university’s desire to promote a head coach from within the program. But after a disappointing 2005 season, Martin and Kennedy sought an outside perspective on the program.
“For [Martin], anything short of the very best is unacceptable,” Kennedy says.
A Hall of Fame coach as consultant
Martin and Kennedy agreed they wanted someone to evaluate the program because their goal is to have a competitive program in the Mid-American Conference. They also agreed they wanted someone with no Kent State ties.
They selected Jim Young, a former high school and college coach with an exceptional record and a College Football Hall of Fame inductee.
“Jim Young was a great fit because he had no knowledge of the program other than the media guide,” Martin says. “Also, Young was instrumental in rebuilding three football programs as head coach at the University of Arizona, Purdue University and Army.”
Young, an Ohio native, boasts a 120-71-2 record at those schools. Young says he was intrigued by Kent State’s offer because early in his career, he coached at Bowling Green State University and Miami University, also MAC schools.
He spent time in January and March talking with Kent State players, coaches and administrators, evaluating facilities, watching team practices and reviewing films.
Before Young arrived, Kennedy told him, “Assume that you’re the new head coach. What would you need from me, the president and the university to be successful?”
University support is vital
Young says the answer can be summarized as “a commitment that the university community wants the team to be successful.”
Martin agrees that university support at the games is important to the players’ performance.
“When addressing the National Athletic Development Council, our players expressed how tough it is to play in front of small crowds,” Martin says. “They really feed off the crowd. For example, last season, we played our best game at Navy. Not only was the stadium packed, but the crowd was really into the game, which created a lot of energy for our players.”
For the football program to improve, it needs the entire university community to be involved, Martin says.
“We want and need the players, coaches, administrators, community and alumni to take part in the turnaround of Kent State football,” Martin says.
Along with that, Young says the team should engage the community. Coaches and players should speak in the area to expand interest in Kent State football, and the players should talk with Kent State freshmen.
Martin says he’s already implemented another of Young’s suggestions.
“We were the only MAC school that didn’t have an all-you-can-eat meal plan,” Martin says. “With the cooperation of Dining Services, we’ve established the all-you-can-eat meal four nights a week. It’s important for players to maintain their weight and gain the right weight.”
Team members have expressed their appreciation for the nutrition plan and the renewed support from the university.
“The training table is great,” said Michael Galassi, a senior justice studies major and offensive lineman. “One thing we really like about it is that we are spending time together as a team. Guys aren’t just going in, eating and leaving. We’re hanging around and getting to know each other.”
Other suggestions include evaluating the team’s schedule, which is heavy with nonconference opponents, developing a better rivalry with the University of Akron, conducting leadership training within the team, developing stronger relationships with area high school coaches and increasing the number of student-athletes permitted on the team, which will allow for more area walk-ons.
“Kent State can have a winning program,” Young says. “The coaching staff can be successful. I think the schedule has a lot to do with it. I think in a couple years they should have a winning season, but it would be unreasonable to think that a team can immediately go from being 1-10 to 10-1.”
Three Bowl Teams Highlight Outstanding Home Football Schedule
Minnesota will mark first-ever Big Ten opponent to play at Dix Stadium
By Russell C. Wright, NACDA Consulting
30,520: That’s the number of seats in Dix Stadium, home to Kent State football for the past 36 years. Golden Flash fans might be surprised to learn that the team has never played to a sold-out crowd in this arena. However, the goal in 2006 is not simply to attain the first-ever sellout at Dix Stadium, but to sell out the stadium twice this season.
Three 2005 bowl teams will visit Dix Stadium this year, as Kent State offers fans arguably the finest home schedule in its football history. Combined with the return of a veteran squad, this fact is sure to generate optimism and excitement as head coach Doug Martin enters his third season at the helm of the Golden Flashes football program.
Big Ten challenger kicks off season
The first-ever appearance by a Big Ten opponent at Dix Stadium kicks off the season on Thursday, Aug. 31, as former Golden Flashes head coach Glen Mason returns to Kent State with his Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Flashes hope to make history twice that evening, with the first-ever sellout of Dix Stadium.
The intensity reaches a heightened pitch when archrival University of Akron comes to Kent State for the highly anticipated annual grudge match for the “Wagon Wheel.” Akron promises to bring a large fan contingent, and the Golden Flashes hope their fans will match the intensity and enthusiasm with a second consecutive sellout at Dix Stadium for the Sept. 30 contest.
After a week away from Kent, the Flashes return on Oct. 14 for the Homecoming game against the Toledo Rockets. Fans will enjoy this match-up of two high-powered offenses, meeting for the first time since 1999; it’s also the first time since 1993 they’ve met on the field in Dix Stadium.
After a bye week, Kent State welcomes East Division rival Ohio University on Oct. 28. The Flashes hold an impressive 18-9-1 record at home against the Bobcats, winning two of the last three match-ups.
On Nov. 18, the Eastern Michigan Eagles come to Kent State, closing out the home schedule. The Golden Flashes will seek to avenge last year’s 27-20 defeat, in which Kent State scored 13 unanswered fourth-quarter points, but fell just short in their rally.
Veterans ready for action
After a disappointing 2005 season, during which younger players were forced into duty as injuries mounted, fans this year can expect to find the kind of excitement they felt at the end of the 2004 season. That season ended on a very high note, as the Golden Flashes won their final four games in dominating fashion and completed the first four-game winning streak since 1976. Opponents who may be expecting to come out of Dix Stadium with a victory this season should be ready for an unaccommodating host.
Martin posts a veteran roster with 18 returning starters. Known for innovative offensive strategies, Martin returns starting quarterback Michael Machen and wide outs Najah Pruden and Marcus Hill; he’ll also have the services of two explosive tailbacks: Tony Howard, who sat out last season after transferring from Michigan State, and freshman Eugene Jarvis, who was redshirted in 2005. Martin’s spread offense promises to put points on the board in 2006. Kent State’s depth is not limited to offense, as seven defensive starters return, led by second-team All-MAC defensive tackle Daniel Muir and freshman All-American safety Rico Murray.
Martin has made a concerted effort to recruit within Ohio, which features some of the best football talent in the country. In the most recent class, nine of the 14 incoming freshmen are from Ohio; a total of 21 Ohio high school players have signed with Kent State since Martin became head coach. “We want to be known as the Ohio team in the MAC and focus on the outstanding high school talent that Ohio produces each year,” Martin says.
The schedule and veteran squad are not the only reasons to spend game day at Dix Stadium. Looking to create a festive pre-game atmosphere and family-friendly event, Kent State this season will introduce the preeminent tailgating destination, “Tailgate Alley.” Featuring live entertainment, food and beverage — as well as inflatables, interactive games and appearances by Flash and the Kent State cheerleaders — Tailgate Alley will take the event to another level for Kent State fans.
Admission to Tailgate Alley is free; festivities will start two-and-a-half hours prior to every home football game. Located at the southwest corner of the stadium, adjacent to the softball field, Tailgate Alley also will offer hospitality tents for groups and corporate sponsors, as well as the site for the pre-game Kent State Kickoff Show.
Package ticket plans offered
Ticket plans for 2006 start at $45, and Kent State will offer family and mini-packages for the first time. The Family Pack, presented by Hungry Howie’s Pizza, will provide four tickets, four drinks, four hats and a large Hungry Howie’s pizza for $55. The Gold Plan mini-package will provide tickets to the Minnesota and Akron games, with prices starting at $20. Prices start at $30 for the Blue Plan, which includes tickets for the Minnesota, Akron and Homecoming games. Several other ticket plans are available; visit www.kentstatesports.com for details.
Group ticket packages also will offer fans the opportunity to “Party on the Deck,” with rental of the event hospitality deck at Dix Stadium available. Just yards from the field, the hospitality deck can accommodate up to 100 people and will provide fans with a unique football experience.
For the complete schedule, ticket information and up-to-date team details, visit the Kent State Athletics Web site.