Flash football team gets ready for a new season

The Kent State Golden Flashes practice Aug. 16 at Dix Stadium for the upcoming 2013 season. Photo by COTY GIANNELLI.

The Kent State Golden Flashes practice Aug. 16 at Dix Stadium for the upcoming 2013 season. Photo by COTY GIANNELLI.

Nick Shook

Change can be found everywhere within Kent State football in 2013.

With a new year comes new faces, and some who may be unfamiliar are sprinkled throughout the lineup on offense, defense and the coaching staff. Former backups now occupy starting roles on the offensive line, in the linebacking corps and most importantly, under center.

The most notable new face, head coach Paul Haynes, named redshirt freshman Colin Reardon the starting quarterback for the Flashes, but the changes don’t stop there. Despite losing three starting offensive linemen to graduation, the boasts a surprising amount of depth.

Returning starter Pat McShane has missed a good amount of preseason camp with a knee injury, but is currently considered day-to-day and could even play in the Flashes’ first game. Sophomore Jim Katusha was also banged up during practice but is making his way back to the field, and the pair’s impending return is encouraging for Haynes.

“With them coming back, our depth is only getting better,” Haynes said. “I feel good about them. They’re young and they’re new. Until they get into some battles, we’ll have to wait and see. They’ve been improving every day; we’ve just got to see them against another color.”

Four key moments of 2012 season

  1. The Flashes earned their first-ever victory against a ranked opponent when they defeated No. 15 Rutgers 35-23 on Oct. 29. Kent State forced the Scarlet Knights into a season-high six turnovers in the win.
  2. Kent State clinched a spot in the MAC Championship game with a 31-24 win over Bowling Green on Nov. 17. The Flashes finished the regular season with a perfect 8-0 conference record.
  3. The MAC Championship game between Kent State and Northern Illinois went into double overtime, but the Flashes fell just shy of a conference title after losing 44-37 to the Huskies.
  4. In Kent State’s first bowl game appearance in 40 years, the Flashes lost to the Arkansas State Red Wolves in the GoDaddy.com Bowl by a score of 17-13. Paul Haynes officially became the Flashes’ new head coach after the game, replacing Darrell Hazell.

The offensive line and the rest of the team will get to see another color – red, white and blue, in fact – Thursday evening, when Kent State begins its Mid-American Conference East Division title defense with the season opener against Football Championship Subdivision opponent Liberty at Dix Stadium.

Coming off an 11-3 finish last season, the Flashes face higher expectations in 2013. The first step in fulfilling championship aspirations begins Thursday evening against the Flames.

“[A win is] key,” senior defensive lineman Roosevelt Nix said. “It’s essential. You can only go 2-0 if you go 1-0. That’s how we’re looking at it.”

Former Kansas head coach Turner Gill, who once led Buffalo to a MAC crown in 2008, now roams the sidelines at Liberty. Gill lost his last game against Kent State at home in 2008, a defeat that ended the Bulls’ five-game winning streak. He makes his return to Dix Stadium as the head coach of the Flames, who finished 2012 with a 6-5 record and won a share of the Big South Conference title.

Preparing for Liberty became a bit more challenging for Kent State last week when Gill decided not to exchange game film with Haynes.

“We don’t know,” Haynes said. “The thing about it is you never know a lot of times, because there could be some transfers who come up and stuff like that. But they’re a very talented football team when you look at their numbers from last year, so we’ve got to expect anything.”

Considering the lack of study material, Nix chose to keep the focus on the play of his team, not on the opponent.

“They didn’t lose one assistant coach,” Nix said. “[Based on] laws of averages, they probably didn’t change that much, or, it could be completely different with [Liberty] not trading film. We’ll play Kent State ball either way. It doesn’t matter if they didn’t want to show us or not; we’ll come out here and do what we do.”

Senior safety Luke Wollet knows his teammates cannot, and will not take the Flames – members of the smaller-school subdivision of Division I football – lightly.

“Expect the unexpected,” Wollet said. “Any time the team comes in with the underdog mindset, they’re going to try some trick plays and that’s probably what is preached [to them] this week. They’re probably watching a bunch of boxing knockouts and underdog stuff.

“They’re a good team. We don’t look at them as the underdog. We know they’re going to come in here and give everything they’ve got and we’ve got to be ready for the challenge.”

With the quarterback competition settled for now, it will be upon the shoulders of Reardon to help the Flashes find more success in 2013. Much like how Spencer Keith effectively piloted the Flashes offense in 2012, Reardon will be expected to keep the group under control and efficient this season.

First game: vs. Liberty

When: 6 p.m. Thursday

Where: Dix Stadium

How to get to the game: bus service to the stadium will be available before the game

“Both of those guys [Reardon and senior David Fisher] are doing a good job,” Haynes said. “Colin is the starter, but they’ve got to continue to both learn and be ready and prepare like crazy. I’m pleased with both of them. We’ve just got to continue to work and manage the offense and don’t turn the ball over.”

Following Thursday’s game against Liberty, the Flashes will play host to Bowling Green Sept. 7 at Dix Stadium in what may prove to be one of the conference’s early marquee matchups. Last season, a thrilling contest between the two schools resulted in a 31-24 Kent State victory, which proved to be a key win during the Flashes’ run to the East Division title. Running back Dri Archer officially grabbed the nation’s collective attention with a 241-yard performance, including a 74-yard touchdown run and a scintillating 79-yard scamper that resulted in his second touchdown of the day.

Archer’s historic season garnered plenty of national attention and accolades, and even prompted the school’s athletic department to start his own Heisman Trophy campaign, complete with a syndicated comic strip titled “The Archer,” created by cartoonist and Kent State alum Chuck Ayers. But with all attention considered, Archer said he’s kept his focus on the field.

“It’s pretty cool, it’s very rare for something to happen like that for a guy in the MAC,” Archer said. “But I try not to get too much into it.”

After two early home contests, Archer and the Flashes hit the road to face non-conference opponents LSU and Penn State. In 2012, Kent State recorded its biggest win in school history when the Flashes upset previously undefeated Rutgers 35-23. LSU, a perennial Southeastern Conference contender, will be an even tougher opponent to top on the road Sept. 14. The conference schedule continues with a road game at Western Michigan on Sept. 28, before the Flashes return home to face Northern Illinois in a rematch of the 2012 MAC Championship Game, in which the Huskies won the conference title 44-37 in double overtime. Northern lllinois’ own Heisman hopeful, quarterback Jordan Lynch, returns to lead a potent offense that helped the Huskies reach the Orange Bowl last season.

But before the Flashes can even begin to think about the prospects of upsetting an SEC or Big Ten power, their thoughts will be focused on Liberty.

“One loss could turn the tide of a season,” Wollet said. “I hate to bring up last year, but you look at a game like Ball State, [if] we lose that game, you don’t know how the season goes. It’s all about turning points and keeping the ball rolling, and we want to get the first win and build off that.”

For seniors like Wollet, Nix and Archer, the last season opener is always a bittersweet moment. But what cannot be questioned is their levels of excitement come 6 p.m. Thursday.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].