Kent State football with high expectations entering season

Scott Lendak

The 2016 season was one to forget for the Flashes.

Kent State’s Football team bounced back from their 2015 campaign (3-9, 2-6 Mid-American Conference) in nearly identical fashion when they finished with a 3-9 record.

Though the Flashes struggled, they lost four games by less than five points.

Fifth year senior quarterback Nick Holley said finishing late in games was a problem that has to change this season. 

“We just didn’t finish,” Holley said.  “In a lot of the games last year we were close and right there with teams.  This year the belief system in finishing plays and games will be there.”

Paul Haynes is headed to his fifth year as head coach for the Flashes, sporting a 12-35 overall record since his arrival in Kent.

The defensive minded coach will have his hands full, as he’ll try to replace key players from last season.

“Group wise we all have to get better,” Haynes said.  “When you lose a lot of production in guys like Terence Waugh and Nate Holley you have to have new guys step up.”

The Flashes will face a schedule that includes Clemson, the defending National Champions, and Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson and Louisville.


The Flashes, who have been consistently solid on the defensive side of the ball under Haynes, have failed to find offensive production throughout their recent struggles. 

Kent State averaged 20.6 points per game, which ranked 117th in the FBS.

A lack of production in the passing game puts Holley under the spotlight in his second year behind center.

Holley may finally have the skilled players alongside him to turn this offense around. 

“We have a bunch of good receivers to get the ball to this year,” Holley said.  “You need a couple guys at receiver that can just go get the ball no matter what.  That will open up our running game too.”

Last year, the dual-threat quarterback threw for 868 yards and rushed for 873 yards in seven starts.

Lined up behind Holley will be sophomore running back Justin Rankin.  He led the team in rushing yards (511), catches (28) and receiving yards (335).

The Flashes will have plenty of running back depth with sophomore Will Matthews, junior Myles Washington and redshirt freshman Keon Singleton. 

The Flashes hope to improve the wide receiver position from last year when they were the sixth worst team in the country in terms of receiving yards.

“We have multiple guys who can be really big threats,” Holley said.  “We have Raekwon James in the slot and some top receivers like Trey Harrell and Kris White. Those are guys who can do special things with the ball in their hands.”

Up front, the Flashes have moved their top returning lineman, junior Stefano Millin, from center to left tackle. Senior Nathan Puthoff will take over at center.

Don Treadwell will call plays for the third year as offensive coordinator.


It may be a year of growing pains for the defensive-minded Haynes and his defensive coordinator Ben Needham.

Six of the top seven tacklers from a season ago will not be on the field this year.

“It all starts up front,” Haynes said.  “The defensive line has to perform well enough for us to success.  It’s always important to be strong up front and in the middle.”

Junior linebacker Matt Bahr will move into a pivotal role along with senior defensive tackle Jon Cunningham and defensive end Marques Moore.

“We’re going to come in with a mindset to get the ball back to our offense,” Bahr said.  “Our defense is good at forcing turnovers, and we take pride in helping our offense in terms of field position.”

The strength of the defensive unit is in the secondary.  The Flashes return three of four starters in the secondary including a pair of former All-MAC cornerbacks Jerrell Foster and Demetrius Monday for their senior years.

The Flashes were 100th in the FBS with just 20 sacks last season.  Monday thinks that more pressure on the quarterback means more turnovers.

“It’s going to be major to force the quarterback into tough throws,” Monday said.  “The secondary needs to help them out by not allowing guys to get open. It plays hand in hand.”

Junior safety Juantez McRae will also play a big role, as he is the top returning tackler from last season.

With an improvement on offense under another year with Holley at quarterback, the Flashes have a chance to be a formidable opponent in the MAC East.