Kent State looking for strong start against Towson


Junior wide receiver Tyshon Goode attempts to run the ball into the end zone during the Flashes’ last regular season game at Dix Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 19. Goode’s 4th quarter touch down put the Flashes ahead 28-22 and allowed them to defeat Eastern Michigan. File photo.

Tim Dorst

At Dix Stadium last season, there was a feeling sweeping across campus that the Kent State Golden Flashes were a team on the rise. Fans saw not only a team that won four of its last five games to close out the season, but they saw a team that showed the ability to face adversary, triumph over it and turn failure into success.

By the end of last season, players and coaches became more unified under the system that head coach Darrell Hazell had put into place. As senior offensive lineman Brian Winters said during a press conference Monday afternoon, with that unity came a renewed sense of confidence that spread throughout the locker room.

Football Flash-back

2011 key stats:

Senior Kicker Freddy Cortez led the team in scoring last season with 57 points

Jacquise Terry and Trayion Durham combined for more than 1,100 all-purpose yards in 2011

Quarterback Spencer Keith threw for more than 1,600 yards with 11 touchdown passes

Linebacker Luke Batton led the Flashes defense with 102 tackles

Safety Luke Wollet paced the defense with four interceptions, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble

Defensive end Jake Dooley led the team with five sacks

Starting strong

Kent State is 6-3 in home openers in the last nine seasons

“Everyone was tired of the old attitude and how we played from the beginning,” Winters said. “I feel like since that half of the season, everyone feels a lot more confident.”

All of the team’s confidence and preparation will be put to the test for the first time this year as the Flashes host the Towson Tigers in the season opener Thursday night at Dix Stadium. The game is scheduled to begin at 7:00 p.m.

The Flashes, who finished with a record of 5-7 last season, will look to build on the success they achieved in the second half of their 2011 campaign. Coach Hazell said that after nearly a month of rigorous practices during training camp, he is anxious to see the team get out onto the field, and he feels his team is ready.

“I love the maturity of this football team,” Hazell said. “Their attention to detail and their preparation has been outstanding since the day we reported to camp. We’re excited to get everything started.”

Winters, who has helped anchor the offensive lineman for the past three seasons, knows the struggles the team went through during the first season with Hazell as head coach, and he said he believes the players are much more focused going into the new season.

“Last year was sort of a buy-in year for the coaches,” Winters said. “Now, everyone’s on board. I think this year is going to be a standout year for us. Since I’ve been here, I’ve never been around a program like this.”

As the first test, the Flashes take on a Towson team that has seen major improvements of its own. The Tigers, under coach Rob Ambrose, earned a record of 9-3 in the 2011 season just one year after posting a 1-10 record in 2010. Towson won the Colonial Athletic Association conference title last season and earned a spot in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

“Towson’s a very competitive team,” Hazell said. “They play with tremendous energy, and they feed off that energy and feed off each other. I think it is extremely important for our football team to get off to a great start in the game because they’re going to battle.”

In order to start the way Hazell wants, the Flashes will rely greatly on their depth at the running back position, headed by the combination of sophomore Trayion Durham and senior Dri Archer.

The 250-pound Durham comes into this season after a productive freshman year, during which he led the team in rushing with 630 yards on 186 carries. Hazell said Durham has improved so much during camp this year that it’s almost as if he’s a completely different player.

“He’s playing with so much confidence,” Hazell said. “He’s seeing things so much better, and that’s all in the way he prepares.”

Durham will share carries with the senior Archer, who is arguably one of the fastest players on the team. Archer will also line up in the slot receiver position on plays when Durham is in the backfield.

“Dri is dynamic with the football in his hands,” Hazell said. “We have to make sure he gets his touches because a lot of good things will happen.”

On the defensive side, Kent State has many of its starters returning, including captains Roosevelt Nix and Luke Batton. Nix, a junior defensive lineman, said Towson is not a team to be overlooked.

“They do a lot of great things on offense,” Nix said. “They have a lot of different formations and a lot of good players who transferred there from bigger schools. Towson is definitely a great team.”

The Flashes’ defense will also be impacted by sophomore safety Calvin Tiggle, whom Coach Hazell said is a smart player with outstanding playmaking ability. Last season, Tiggle placed third on the team in tackles with 66 and recovered three fumbles.

On special teams, freshman Anthony Melchiori will be the starting punter for the season opener, with sophomore Andrew Horning possibly seeing some time at punter as well.

Hazell said while the overall goal of the team is a Mid-American Conference championship, the team is not looking too far ahead. Instead, he said the players are fully focused on game No. 1.

“In this game of football, you only get 12 guaranteed opportunities to play,” Hazel said. “So every game is critical. But this game on Thursday night is important because I think if we play the way I think we’re capable of playing and do all the things we’re capable of doing, this game could vault us into another level.”

Contact Tim Dorst at [email protected].