Haynes, Flashes aim for another golden season in 2013

Head Coach Paul Haynes speaks to the football team at the conclusion of the annual Spring Football game on Saturday, April 27 at Dix Stadium. The Blue overwhelmed the Gold, defeating them 31-0 in the exhibition game. Photo by Shane Flanigan

Nick Shook

Five Points of focus heading into the 2013 season

1.Offensive line play

The Flashes lost a great offensive lineman in departed senior Brian Winters, who was selected in the third round of the NFL Draft by the New York Jets. Winters wasn’t the only consistent lineman to graduate from Kent State after the 2012 season, though. Kent Cleveland and Josh Kline also moved on from KSU after their final season. The Flashes will have holes to fill on the offensive line, and with fifth-year senior Pat McShane hobbled by a knee injury that may or may not force him to miss significant time, plenty of underclassmen will have to step up in order to open running lanes for the stellar backfield of Trayion Durham and Dri Archer. Word of out camp is that new offensive line coach Shawn Clark has made great strides with the current group of linemen, which should help Kent State rebound from the loss of three solid starters from the 2012 squad.

2.Quarterback competition

Kent State will have one of two quarterbacks win the starting job in camp. Senior David Fisher and redshirt freshman Colin Reardon continue to battle it out in practice, and both have looked sharp so far. Head coach Paul Haynes is happy to have the two playing well in camp, and will take the final week of preseason practice to closely evaluate the two before determining the starter. Fisher brings a mobile aspect to the offense that could potentially be another weapon, but don’t overlook Reardon’s ability to run as well. Both can sling the ball as well, bringing the competition to a closely contested battle.

3. Filling holes on the defensive end

The Flashes lost linebacker Luke Batton to graduation, as well as defensive lineman Dana Brown Jr., who played an underrated role in Kent State’s run-stopping attack in 2012. Sophomore linebacker Matt Dellinger is among returners who are competing to replace Batton at linebacker. A younger player will also have to step up to fill the hole left by the departure of defensive back Norman Wolfe Jr. Fortunately for the Flashes, Haynes was once a standout defensive back during his playing days and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience as a coach for the secondary.

4.Back attack

Durham and Archer bring a one-two punch not seen at many mid-major football schools, and both have garnered national attention in the preseason. With notoriety comes increased attention, and it is to be expected that opposing defenses will form their gameplans around Archer and Durham. The Flashes must be able to establish a legitimate passing threat in order to keep defenses from stacking the box with eight or nine defenders bent on stopping the two running backs. Success and efficiency from either Reardon or Fisher will be vital for the Kent State offense to succeed in 2013.

5. New season, higher expectations

Coming off a historic 11-3 finish to the 2012 season, the Flashes have a target on their backs heading into the 2013 season, something of which they have been made well aware. Haynes and his staff have been sure to keep the players focused on improving, rather than resting on past success. With heightened expectations also comes pressure, and it will be the responsibility of returning experienced players to keep their fellow Flashes on top of their games from Week One through the final game of the season. Conference competition only improves in 2013, with Northern Illinois’ dual-threat quarterback Jordan Lynch returning with hopes of keeping the Huskies atop the Mid-American Conference. Bowling Green will also bring a formidable challenge to the Flashes in Week Two, and the Kent State-Ohio rivalry only deepens with the Flashes’ trip to Athens in the final week of the regular season. The MAC East Division title could be on the line when Kent State plays Ohio. Conference games will have an added importance in 2013, as the Flashes look to repeat success and return to Ford Field in Detroit for another battle for the conference title. A second straight bowl appearance is not out of the question, either.

Paul Haynes was standing near midfield, arms folded with a whistle hanging from his neck, watching intently.

The Flashes’ new head football coach was focused on a group of defensive backs gathered in an individual drill 20 yards away during a sunny, morning practice at Dix Stadium.

“Go get it,” Haynes barked to his players. “You’ve got to go up and get it.”

Haynes was instructing his players on how to attack a pass as a defender. As a former standout safety at Kent State, he’s well aware of what it takes to succeed as a defensive back in the Mid-American Conference.

In his first preseason camp as head coach at his alma mater, he aims to prepare his Flashes for a season bearing unusual expectations.

The Flashes enter 2013 after a historic 2012 campaign in which they finished 11-3, won the MAC East Division and reached their first bowl game in 40 years.

But Haynes spent last season more than 800 miles away as defensive coordinator at Arkansas, and with 2012 now in the past and former head coach Darrell Hazell roaming the sidelines at Purdue, Haynes is presented with the challenge of repeating success in his first season at the helm.

Haynes said he wants to make sure his players understand what he wants from them on every down: intense, passionate play.

Despite the eventual drag of preseason camp, lulls in energy are not acceptable to Haynes. This was clear during a red-zone drill in a mid-week practice, when quarterback David Fisher rolled out to the right and found tight end Tim Erjavec in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. The only one showing excitement with Erjavec was an assistant coach, who leaped into the fullback’s arms. That didn’t sit well with Haynes.

“Everyone,” his voice cracked as he shouted, putting an arm around Erjavec and returning him to the spot of his touchdown reception. “Get over here and celebrate.”

The entire offense ran over to Erjavec and embraced him in congratulations for his play.

“We get in practice mode, and when you score a touchdown, that’s a big deal,” Haynes later explained. “You’ve got one guy going over to him and celebrating. That’s not a team atmosphere, and I made a point about it.

“You’ve got to play this game with a lot of passion and excitement. You can’t just go through the motions. … A guy just scored and it was like, ‘Oh, it’s just in practice.’ That’s bull. How you practice is how you play.”

Offensively, the coach wants to make sure his team is not only physically prepared for a grueling 12-game regular season schedule but also conditioned for potential 13th and 14th games.

For Haynes, that starts on the ground.

“You gotta be tough,” Haynes said. “You gotta be able to run the football. That’s the one thing that we have done a lot of in this camp. Every team that has ever won has been able to run the football, so those are the things we’re stressing.”

Senior receiver Tyshon Goode, who missed the 2012 season with a hamstring injury, noticed the change in practice.

Camp is “definitely more physical,” Goode said. The coaches “want to see guys go out there and get after it a little bit, which I think is all right. We need that.”

Fortunately for Haynes, the Flashes return with two running backs, who combined to rush for 30 touchdowns and more than 2,800 yards in 2012.

Trayion Durham, the Flashes’ bullish runner, shouldered the bulk of the load on the ground, carrying the ball 276 times for a 4.8 yards per-carry average. Despite Durham’s outstanding statistics, it is the Flashes’ other back who drew national attention and, just recently, his own Heisman Trophy campaign.

Dri Archer, the Flashes’ speedster, averaged 9.0 yards per carry, scored 16 of the 30 rushing touchdowns, averaged 36.9 yards per kick return and also returned three kicks for touchdowns in 2012.

Opposing teams quickly learned to focus on Archer’s location on the field at all times but still struggled to contain the 5-foot-8-inches, 175-pound tailback.

He garnered multiple All-American honors and has even been featured in a new, nationally printed comic strip by cartoonist and Kent State alumnus Chuck Ayers. It’s called “The Archer.”

Coming off a season with so much success, it would be easy for a player such as Archer, who considered leaving school for the NFL Draft, to rest on his laurels. But Archer, Haynes said, is not that type of person.

Archer is “doing a good job,” Haynes said. “He’s probably had the best summer and best camp so far as far as his work ethic. A lot of times, a lot of people get worried about the hype, but he’s a quiet kid. He’s a kid that goes to work and does what he has to do.”

“When you sit there and tell him, ‘Hey, you need to improve on this,’ he works at it. So we’ve just got to continue to stay on top of him and make sure he’s improving every day.”

Still, the man who will hand the ball off to Durham and Archer has yet to be determined. Competition for quarterback between Fisher and Colin Reardon continues throughout camp, and so far, it’s about as close as it can get. But Haynes feels fortunate to have two quarterbacks playing well.

“That’s a good thing,” Haynes said. “They’re both still looking pretty good, and competition brings out the best. Those guys know there can only be one of them out there. Both of them are challenging each other, both of them are getting better at certain things every day. We’ll continue [the competition] until the end of camp.”

Haynes has allowed the two to get their repetitions in practice and has yet to take a closer look at the quarterback play, which he said he will save for the team’s first jersey scrimmage and the days that follow.

“I try and catch as many balls as I can with the both of them because we don’t know who it’s going to be,” Goode said. “Both quarterbacks are coming out, working hard and competing.”

The quarterback who earns the starting job will have the benefit of a receiving corps that may be better than the group from last season, thanks to the return of Goode, as well as sophomore Josh Boyle and junior Chris Humphreys, who both saw plenty of action in 2012.

“I think we bring a lot of experience and knowledge, and with us keeping our same offensive coordinator [Brian Rock], I think we just start where we left off at and just keep rolling, making everything better. I think the receiving corps is going to play a big part this year.”

Goode, with his speed and playmaking abilities, will be expected to anchor the receivers this season, a responsibility that he says he is more than eager to accept.

“I’m more hungry than I’ve ever been to play football,” Goode said. “Last year was the first season I’ve sat out of football since I was five. I definitely miss and love the sport, and I’m glad to just be out here. I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure I finish strong.”

Goode looked like his old self, comfortable catching passes in multiple drills during practice on Aug. 13. As far as his hamstring injury is concerned, he said he feels like he is finally back to 100 percent.

“I’m feeling real good,” Goode said. “I’m just out here knocking some rust off, that’s what camp is for. You know, just getting back into the groove.”

Another player getting back into the rigors of everyday practice is senior safety Luke Wollet, who, with three letters already earned, is one of the most experienced players returning in 2013.

“Coach Haynes has a great reputation with safeties,” Wollet said. “He’s been able to teach me a lot of things that I didn’t know last year and help my game out and help some other players’ games out.”

The defense will feature some new starters in 2013.

“Guys need to step up,” Wollet said. “We lost some great seniors from last year. For them, it’s about seizing an opportunity. You only get so many chances in life, and I think the guys are doing a great job responding to the challenge.”

As far as the lesser-known names are concerned, redshirt freshman receiver Ernest Calhoun from nearby Akron Buchtel High School has been the source of plenty of buzz during camp.

“Calhoun definitely is one of those little, explosive guys you’ve got to watch out for,” Goode said.

Haynes is also on the lookout for players rising to the top of the lineup during preseason practice.

“We don’t set the depth chart — the kids make the depth chart,” Haynes said. “If you want to be in the depth, then put yourself in the depth. The film doesn’t lie.”

Film study, two-a-day practices and team meetings remain before the first game of the season against Liberty University on Aug. 29. But far before the opening kickoff, Haynes has driven into the minds of all players that another successful season will not just arrive due to past victories.

“Coach Haynes has done a great job of putting it into everybody’s heads that we have a bull’s-eye on our back now,” Goode said. “It’s hard to keep repeating success because you think you’ve earned something.”

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].