KSU football preview: Flashes face imperative 2014

Ray Strickland


After struggling last season, Kent State looks to redeem itself from a disappointing 2013-2014 campaign. Kent State had a difficult time on the offensive side of the ball last year, particularly struggling in the passing game. Sophomore quarterback Collin Reardon took nearly all of the snaps last year in his first year as a freshman.

Freshmen will normally deal with growing pains as per usual, which Reardon exhibited numerous times last season. He showed a lot of potential in his first year as a mobile quarterback with great poise in the pocket, but struggled throwing the ball down field, racking up a little under 2,000 (1,957 to be exact) yards passing.

Reardon said he struggled a number of times and didn’t feel as comfortable with the playbook as he does now.

“I felt I was a little inconsistent. I knew the offense but I was still kind of guessing a little bit. Reardon said. “By the end of the year, I could finally stop thinking and just play.”

Reardon identified his inconsistency as a learning tool going into this season. He said he hit a wall in the middle of last season, but in hindsight feels the experience was necessary to the learning process.

“I learned so much last year,” Reardon said. “The experience of just playing helps more than anything.”

Head coach Paul Haynes says “there is no doubt” Reardon has emerged as leader since last season. Haynes echoed Reardon’s sentiments, stating that Reardon had a typical freshman year.

“Being a true freshmen, thrown into the fire, there is a lot of things he could of done better, but there’s a lot of things he did good,” Haynes said.

If the Flashes expect to defeat the likes of rival Akron University and preseason MAC favorite Bowling Green, Reardon will have to improve upon his 12 touchdowns and 9 interceptions to take pressure off of Trayion Durham and the running attack.

However, wide receiver, senior Chris Humphrey and junior redshirt tight end Casey Pierce are among the key returning members of the receiving corps.

“I believe he is one of the top three best receivers in the MAC,” Pierce said of Humphrey. “He never gets tackled by the first defender. He makes plays and has great hands. He is going to explode yet again.”

Humphrey totaled solid numbers last season, grabbing 51 receptions with 613 receiving yards and three touchdowns. He is one of the most reliable targets for quarterback Colin Reardon.

“I love throwing him the ball,” Reardon said. “I know he is going to have a great chance of catching it, If I throw it to him on a tough route to complete.”

Pierce, who is on the preseason Mackey award watch list for best tight end in the country, along with Humphrey, will be one of Reardon’s favorite targets.

Pierce, who started his career as a walk-on, says he it is a “blessing” to be up for such a prestigious award.

“It’s all about opportunity,” Pierce said about being named to the Mackey award watch list. “It is an honor.”

Behind Humphrey and Pierce, Josh Boyle, who only registered 19 receptions, 201 receiving yards with no touchdowns, is among the vast amount of Reardon’s inexperienced weapons for Reardon.

Although Kent State lost Dri Archer to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Flashes still have a nice field of running backs for Reardon to hand the ball off to. One of Kent State’s biggest strengths last year was being able to effectively run the ball.

The Flashes placed in the top five in the MAC in rushing, posting 2,189 rushing yards on the season. Kent State star running back Durham might have to carry the load due to losing the lighting to his thunder in Archer.

In Durham’s 2012 campaign, as Archer’s teammate, he had a career year with1,346 rushing yards on 276 carries and 14 touchdowns. He is coming off of a foot injury, which could give other backs a chance to catch some reps. Senior Anthony Murray and Nick Holley will share some carries, and don’t be surprised if freshmen Raquan James and Myles Fibbler see the field as Durham continues to fight his way back.


On defense, Kent State lost several seniors to graduation in cornerback Darius Polk, defensive end Mark Fackler and leading tackler safety Luke Wollet.  However, with those players on the field, Kent State continued to struggle on defense for a multitude of reasons. Interceptions, fumble recoveries and sacks were just a few of the Flashes’ weaknesses on defense. 

Haynes said the team has to “be able to stop the run” in order to win.

“You have to win the turnover margin,” Haynes said. “Those are things we have to improve on.”

Kent State ranked in the bottom half of the MAC in interceptions with nine, turning zero into six points.  The Flashes surrendered 26.9 point per game and 411 yards per game, and their inability to sack the quarterback was a weakness as well. They were unable to stuff the run in the backfield, sacking the quarterback just 21 times.

Despite statistical shortcomings, there are some bright spots for next year. Junior safety Jordan Italiano in particular was one of the best safeties in the MAC last year. He totaled 78 tackles and will be a crucial piece to this year’s team. Reardon praised the mental aspect of his game. 

“He can help people set up,” Reardon said. “I hate throwing the ball to his side because he is always in the perfect position to break on one throw or another.”

Junior linebacker Matt Dellinger, junior safety Keenan Stalls and senior linebacker DeVante Strickland are all returning next season. This group of players was four of six top tacklers. 

Special Teams

Junior Punter Anthony Melchiori was named to the Ray Guy award list for best punter in the country. He averaged 44.5 yards on 35 punts and placed 14 punts inside the 20-yard line. This is third straight year appearance on the Ray Guy watch list. The watch list is fitting for him, as Kent State will look to utilize him to keep opponents inside the 20.


Haynes is entering his second season as Kent State’s head football coach. He played for Kent State in 1987-1991 and knows what it takes to be a Golden Flash.

“He loves Kent State more than anyone I have ever met in my life,” Reardon said. “Knowing how he is and how he feels about Kent State makes you want to come to work everyday.”

In his first year as head coach, Haynes became the first Kent State rookie head coach to win a season opener since 1988.  He was also the Flashes’ first rookie head coach to win a MAC road opener since 1986. It was a disappointing year for him and the team last year, but he is an outstanding leader. The team responds to him and shows him high level of respect.

Nevertheless, Haynes understands there is more work to be done and that he can get better as well.

“Know one will be harder on themselves than myself,” Haynes said.“The thing you do is you sit back and you look at the things you can improve on.”


Kent State will face off against a familiar MAC foe in the form of Ohio Bobcats, Saturday, August 30, at Dix Stadium. Last year Kent State decisively beat Ohio, 44-13, in Athens. Now squaring off against the Flashes on the road, Bobcats will come into enemy territory looking to make a statement.

The Flashes will have a tough non-conference schedule, playing Ohio State and Virginia in back- to-back weeks. The Buckeyes will definitely pose a difficult task at hand, and ACC’s Virginia Cavaliers will also be a formidable opponent. In the latter, arguably most important portion of the season the team will challenge five conference opponents, which very well may decide the season. 

Then there’s the Akron Zips, a game countlessly circled on the schedule year after year. The Flashes lost the wagon wheel last year by a score of 16-7. It was Kent State’s first loss to Akron since 2009.

“I really want to beat them,” said Reardon, who struggled in last season’s loss to his archenemies. “I want my second chance at them.” 

Haynes has made it a note to not get too overzealous about the game. Under Haynes’ direction, the Flashes plan on taking every game in stride, including the big Wagon Wheel Challenge game. 

“You approach it the same way,” Haynes said. “You can’t get too high, you can’t be too low for that game. Your emotions take over because it’s a rivalry, but that’s the beauty of college football.”

Kent State will take on Akron in the last game of the season Nov. 25 at Dix Stadium.

Ray Strickland is a junior news major and a sports reporter for the Summer Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]