Former Kent State athletes finding success after college


Photos from MCT Campus and Kent State University.

Tim Dorst

If you’re a fan of Kent State athletics, you’re probably familiar with Joshua Cribbs, the former Flashes quarterback who became a national sensation as a kick returner for the Cleveland Browns. After going undrafted in the summer of 2005, Cribbs found a home with the Browns and made a name for himself as one of the most dynamic players in the history of the NFL.

While today, Cribbs may be the most recognizable name among former Kent State athletes, he certainly isn’t the only one. Many Kent State alumni have achieved success in their respective sports at the professional level, whether as a player or as a coach.

James Harrison

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison almost didn’t make it to the NFL. After not being drafted in 2002, Harrison was signed by the Steelers and spent two seasons on the team’s practice squad before being released.

Harrison signed with the Baltimore Ravens in 2003 but was cut after spending a season in NFL Europe, a developmental league at the time. The Steelers gave Harrison a second chance, signing him to a contract in 2004.

Harrison made the best of his opportunity, eventually becoming a full-time starter at linebacker for the Steelers. Since then, he has played in five Pro Bowls and has been named to the All-Pro first team four times.

Harrison was also a member of two Super Bowl-winning teams in Pittsburgh and was a key factor in Super Bowl XLIII, making a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown to help the Steelers win their second championship in four years. That play remains as the longest play in Super Bowl history.

Nick Nemeth

Nick Nemeth arrived at Kent State in 1998 after excelling in wrestling at St. Edward High School, where he set the school record for pins with 82. Nemeth made an immediate impact with the Flashes, becoming a three-time Mid-American Conference champion and finishing his career as Kent State’s all-time leader in victories with 121, a record that has since been surpassed.

While many college wrestlers aspired to continue wrestling at the Olympic level, Nemeth chose wrestling of a slightly different kind. In 2004, Nemeth signed a developmental contract with professional wrestling company World Wrestling Entertainment and made his television debut in 2005.

Known by his ring name “Dolph Ziggler”, he is a former world heavyweight champion and has won several other titles with WWE.

Pro Wrestling Illustrated ranked Nemeth No. 17 on the top 500 pro wrestlers in 2011, and many consider him to be one of the biggest rising stars in the WWE today.

Antonio Gates

Antonio Gates, an All-Pro tight end for the San Diego Chargers, never played football for Kent State. Instead, he was a basketball player for the Flashes, playing two seasons with the team and becoming one of the biggest stars to come through the program.

During his junior season in 2002, Gates helped lead the Flashes to the Elite Eight round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. Gates averaged 20 points per game in his senior season as the Flashes captured their first Mid-American Conference regular season title in school history. In honor of his performance and accomplishments, he became the fourth Kent State player to have his jersey number retired and hung in the rafters of the M.A.C. Center.

After graduating, Gates organized a workout with NFL scouts and chose San Diego as the first team to work out for. The Chargers wasted no time after seeing how Gates performed in the workout, signing him as an undrafted free agent in 2003.

Gates had a breakout season in 2004, recording 81 catches for 964 yards and setting the NFL record for touchdowns by a tight end with 13. In his nine-year professional career, Gates has appeared in eight consecutive Pro Bowls and has been named All-Pro on five occasions. He was also included on the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team.

Ben Curtis

Before breaking into the PGA Tour circuit, golfer Ben Curtis was a standout for Kent State, earning All-American honors three times and winning MAC Golfer of the Year as a senior in 2000.

Curtis helped lead the Flashes to four straight MAC championships and became Kent State’s all-time leader in top-10 finishes with 28.

Curtis turned pro upon graduation in 2000 and shocked the golfing world by winning the 2003 British Open by one stroke in his first appearance at the event. Since then, Curtis has won four PGA Tour events in his career, his most recent win coming at the Valero Texas Open in April 2012. He is currently ranked No. 77 in the Official World Golf Rankings and No. 17 among money leaders on the PGA Tour.

Curtis was named an inductee into the MAC Hall of Fame earlier this year.

Lou Holtz

Former college football coach Lou Holtz played linebacker for Kent State in 1956 and 1957 before graduating and becoming an assistant coach for the University of Iowa in 1960.

After nine years of working as an assistant for a number of different teams, Holtz earned his first head coaching job with William & Mary in 1969.

Holtz had his biggest success as the head coach of Notre Dame, where he coached for 11 seasons and led the Fighting Irish to a national championship in 1988. He retired from coaching in 2004 after compiling 249 wins in his 44-year career. In 2008, Holtz was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Today, Holtz works as a college football analyst for ESPN.

Nick Saban

Before becoming one of the most successful head coaches in college football, Nick Saban played three seasons for Kent State as a defensive back in the early 1970s.

Saban remained with the Flashes as an assistant coach before working as an assistant for several different college teams over a span of 18 years.

In 1990, Saban was hired for his first head coaching job at the University of Toledo. After leading the Rockets to a 9-2 season and a share of the conference title, Saban resigned as head coach to take a defensive coordinator position with the Cleveland Browns.

Over the course of his career, Saban holds a college coaching record of 146-54-1 and led teams to three national championships, the first coming in 2003 at LSU.

He signed on as head coach at the University of Alabama in 2007 and led the Crimson Tide to national titles in 2009 and 2011. Forbes Magazine called Saban “the most powerful coach in sports” in a 2008 issue.

Contact Tim Dorst at [email protected].