Kent State coach Darrell Hazell’s first morning of spring football practice began differently than the mellow tempered coach is accustomed to.
The Flashes’ first-year head coach woke up at 4:09 a.m. Tuesday, feeling both nervous and anxious for his first day of practice.
Hazell rolled back and forth in bed until he gave up on sleeping. A rush of thoughts overcame him.
What does he have to tell his football team that lost 11 players on the defensive side of the ball? What was his plan for his first day conducting a team that lost three of its last four games to end last season?
“I don’t know what was going on…It was a bit of excitement,” Hazell said. “There are just so many things going through your head. That was a little unusual.”
Once the Flashes lined up for practice in the Kent State Fieldhouse, Hazell looked anything but anxious.
He paced around the field as the team practiced non-contact drills, observing his new coaching staff working with every position.
Hazell, who primarily coached Ohio State’s wide receiving corps for the past five seasons, was not used to coaching every player on the football field.
But it did not show.
As the voices of assistant coaches reverberated throughout the building, Hazell was quiet through half of Tuesday’s session. The coach simply walked around to get to know his players. He observed his coaching staff and how his new team played.
“Early in practice, I wanted to see the (assistant coaches) coaching them and seeing how the guys responded,” Hazell said. “It was good to be able to road around and see how every position moved.”
While the drills were non-contact, Kent State’s experienced offense was on display. Junior quarterback Spencer Keith and his likely top competitor for the starting job, senior Giorgio Morgan, struggled on their first day running Hazell’s offense.
Balls sailed behind or ahead of receivers who were running their routes. Both showed veteran poise in the pocket, but Hazell said the competition is wide open as spring practices are underway.
“It’s going to be an interesting process to watch those guys,” Hazell said. “It’s not only physical, but it’s how much they can understand and implement.”
The first day was as casual as can be expected. Players were wearing helmets and ran around on the turf with shorts and practice jerseys, but Hazell did not need pads to stress his first lesson to the team-tempo.
Hazell wanted to watch players sprint from the huddle to the line of scrimmage, and he wanted enthusiasm from his new team. They responded.
The Flashes were nonstop on the field, as players were urged by assistant coaches to hustle when they checked in and out of the play.
“We only stayed in one personnel grouping, and we’ll install more personnel groups,” Hazell said. “We wanted to see how fast we can get in and out of the huddle, and that’s something we want to thrive on.”
While the Flashes have 13 practices until the Spring Game on April 16, Hazell said that it’s not enough time for the team to take a breather. With new systems on both offense and defense, he wants Kent State to have 80 percent of the plays known by the time they dress for the Blue and Gold game.
“Each day we’re going to try to implement a few more plays and formations,” Hazell said. “We have to be able to progress every single practice. It’s a quick three weeks so we don’t have a chance to step back at all.”
Expectations for Hazell’s team are up in the air. With not one known starter on the Flashes, many do not know what to expect when the season opens at Alabama on Sept. 3.
Hazell did not mention a single player that stood out Tuesday or guarantee a starting spot for anyone, but he’s confident in the group of players he has.
“I think we’ll have a good football team,” Hazell said. “I like the way they run around. Their attention to detail is good right now. This team excites me a lot.”
Contact Lance Lysowski at [email protected]