Coach Hazell signs 18 players on National Signing Day

Lance Lysowski

When a coach takes over a Division I football program in late December, he’s already at a disadvantage when he signs his name on the dotted line.

Coaches who kept their jobs the previous season have a head start on recruiting high school talent and have a familiarity with local players. They know the players on their teams, and have a strong sense of what pieces they need.

Kent State coach Darrell Hazell is the exception.

Hazell signed 18 high school players yesterday on National Signing Day – his first as head coach of the Flashes.

“I’m very excited about this class – exceptional people, great character and really good players – so you couldn’t have asked for a better 18 guys for us,” Hazell said.

The day Hazell became the 20th coach in Kent State football history, he laid out a simple plan to avoid the problems in recruiting that come with being a first-year coach.

In his introductory press conference on Dec. 20, Hazell said that in order for a team to succeed, it needed exceptional players at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive line, linebacker and cornerback.

His first recruiting class reflects that theory.

He assessed the Flashes’ needs after watching game footage and evaluated every available prospect in the state of Ohio. Once his coaching staff was assembled, Hazell hit the recruiting trail across the state.

The Flashes’ coaches visited 170 high schools in a three-week span.

Breakdown of Hazell’s 2011 Class

  • 13 Ohio high school players
  • 5 out-of-state
  • 3 QB, 3 RB, 1 TE, 1 OL, 2 DL, 4 LB and 1 DB.

    Notable players

  • RB Trayion Durham: Cincinnati, Ohio
  • LB C.J. Malauulu: Oceanside, Calif.
  • DE Anthony Pruitt: Columbus, Ohio
  • QB Evan Shimensky: Kent, Ohio
  • DE Nate Terhune: Moreland Hills, Ohio

The result was a perpetual turnaround. When Hazell took over as coach, Kent State had five players committed to play football next fall. That number increased to 18 after Hazell’s aggressive pursuit of Ohio’s high school talent.

“We always want to have at least 75 percent of our class from this state,” Hazell said. “Of all the high schools here that play football, we’ve got to be able to do that. We’re going to get the best players, and we’re going to make it special.”

When talking about his first recruiting class as Kent State coach, Hazell’s recurring theme is toughness. Cincinnati Colerain running back Trayion Durham, the top player in Hazell’s class, is his poster boy.

The 6-foot-2, 240-pound fullback is an aggressive runner who hits holes with quickness and power. The third-best fullback in the nation according to is a challenging player to tackle once he breaks into the secondary.

Hazell and his staff waited until the early hours yesterday morning for Durham’s letter of intent to come through the fax machine. When it did, they were ecstatic.

While most Bowl Championship Series schools saw Durham as a pure blocking fullback, Hazell saw him as a player that could line-up as a tail back.

“Trayion is a special guy,” Hazell said. “I think the thing about him is that he trusted our staff, and what we were telling him. He felt right at home once we got him up here. That was a good get. He’s a special guy.”

With the departure of senior linebackers Cobrani Mixon and Dorian Wood, the Flashes had a major void in their defensive front.

Insert junior college transfer C.J. Malauulu.

The Oceanside, Calif., native is reminiscent of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu with his signature long hair and the No. 43 jersey he wears. Malauulu’s game film shows his quickness off the snap and running backs avoiding the 235-pound linebacker’s thunderous hits.

“He will absolutely rip your head off,” Hazell said. “He’s a very unique guy, very passionate about the football game. You have to be tough on all sides of the ball. We’re going to be a tough football team.”

Contact Lance Lysowski at [email protected].