Sports with Shook: Hope and change abounds for Flashes football

Nick Shook

A 4-1 finish to the 2011 season had Kent State looking back and saying “what if?”

What if the Flashes had found a way to score inside the 20 and defeat the Ohio Bobcats on the road?

What if Kent State was able to battle the elements and earn a home victory over Louisiana-Lafayette in a driving rainstorm?

In the end, the past was the past for Kent State, but also a collection of positives. The Flashes had significantly improved as the season progressed, and hit their stride just a little too late into the campaign. A 5-7 final record didn’t exactly look impressive, but it was a good foundation to build from and prepare for 2012.

It’s been said over and over: A football season is not a sprint, but a marathon.

Cliche or not, that will be true for Kent State in 2012. That metaphorical marathon commences Thursday as the Flashes play host to Towson University under the lights at Dix Stadium.

Tonight, we’ll see how Spencer Keith — a quarterback who has definitely experienced highs and lows while leading the Flashes offense in his first three years at Kent State — will perform in the last season opener of his collegiate career. Keith won a position battle in camp that was tighter than most expected, beating out junior college-transfer David Fisher and freshman Colin Reardon.

Keith has the advantage of entering this season without a nagging injury and free of issues with interceptions. The Flashes’ offense will go as Keith goes.

Thursday, we’ll see the debut of the two-headed monster: sophomore Trayion Durham — your proverbial “Thunder” — and redshirt junior Dri Archer — complementary “Lightning” — at running back. Durham became the feature back in a crowded backfield in 2011 after his breakout performance in a 35-3 drubbing of rival Akron where he rushed for 107 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman.

Archer saw limited action in his first two seasons at Kent State, and he sat out the 2011 season. His impact could be significant if utilized properly, because he has all the tools necessary to make plays for the Flashes.

We could even see the first collegiate action of speedy freshman tailback Julian Durden. Take one look at Durden’s highlight film online, and you will agree with me that the kid has serious talent and a bright future. Imagine a three-back attack of Durham, Archer and Durden for the Flashes. The “DAD-field.” I’m trademarking that.

We will see a healthy Roosevelt Nix, who played all of 2011 with a nagging turf toe injury, take the field for Kent State. The 2010 MAC Defensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year just wasn’t himself last season, and although Kent State spent much of the year ranked among the top defenses in the nation, they will need his contribution in 2012. A healthy Nix can only be good for the Kent State defense.

We will also see Kent State take on a team of lesser stature to open the season for once. No disrespect to Towson, but I hadn’t heard of the school until the schedule was announced last spring. Normally, MAC schools spend their first couple of weeks playing national powerhouses in exchange for big payoffs to the athletic department. This season, the Flashes get to play the role of big brother. But a win becomes all the more important with a lesser team visiting Kent.

And finally, tonight we will see Kent State begin its quest to erase a 40-year-old drought. The Flashes haven’t earned a bowl berth since 1972, when head coach Don James and his “James Gang” turned around a season that started with three losses in its first five games to finish 6-4-1 and take home the MAC title. The 1972 team featured the likes of Nick Saban — current Alabama head coach — at safety, Gary Pinkel — current Missouri head coach — at tight end and Pro Football Hall-of-Famer and four-time Super Bowl champion Jack Lambert at middle linebacker.

Could Nix, Keith and Durham be the next trio to lead the Flashes to the promised land of a MAC championship?

Head coach Darrell Hazell already purchased alternate gold helmets for Kent State’s next potential bowl game. The only question that remains is whether or not we will see a team of gold-domed Flashes running onto the field.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].