KSU football’s newest playmaker

Lance Lysowski

Kent State coach Doug Martin challenged his wide receivers to become playmakers at the conclusion of last season.

Junior Sam Kirkland responded.

During the offseason, the Chesapeake, Va., native spent countless hours on the practice field and watching film with sophomore quarterback Spencer Keith.

“Sam has bought into being a great practice player,” Martin said. “It’s what we try to convince all of the players here is that the way you’re going to practice is the way you’re going to play. For whatever reason, that’s the hardest thing to sell kids on these days. If he does that week in and week out, he will have a chance to be an all-conference type of player.”

The result of Kirkland’s hard work was on display last Thursday when the junior hauled in nine passes for 126 yards and a touchdown in Kent State’s 41-10 victory over Murray State.

Kirkland’s performance in the opener almost eclipsed his total of 154 yards from last season. The receiver said not only did Martin’s challenge inspire him to work harder, but he also knew he was capable of much more.

“I know I had the ability, it was just a matter of time to come out here and start performing,” Kirkland said. “I take football very seriously. This is my job, and in order for me to be my best, I have to come out here and prepare.”

During spring practice, Kirkland was the talk of the Kent State coaching staff. The junior excelled in spring drills, playing more physical and running routes with determination. Kent State wide receivers coach Eugene Baker, who holds every major receiving record in the Flashes’ record book, said Kirkland’s hard work is a product of self motivation.

“Sam put in a lot of hard work in the spring, and it’s showing up on film,” Baker said. “He’s fast, strong and he makes plays for us.”

The Game

Where: Alumni Stadium, Boston

When: 3:30 p.m. tomorrow

How to catch the game: Watch Party at Water Street Tavern downtown (food and drink specials, prize for those who come), ESPNU, ESPN3.com, WNIR 100.1 FM

The junior’s work did not end in the spring. His summer consisted of waking up at 6 a.m. every day, followed by summer classes, studying film and working with Keith.

Kirkland said developing camaraderie with his quarterback is critical for the both of them to have success.

“He’s expecting me to be somewhere, at a certain spot,” Kirkland said. “You have to be able to see things. If there’s a hole, he’s going to expect you to be there. Spencer is very accurate, too. He makes my job easier.”

Kirkland is not the only receiver on the Flashes’ roster that has playmaking ability. Sophomore Tyshon Goode caught 53 passes for 755 yards and five touchdowns last season. Senior Anthony Bowman Jr. returned a kickoff for a touchdown last Thursday.

“It’s always good when you have two guys who can go out there and make plays, and we have a third guy in (Bowman),” Baker said. We have confidence in each one of those guys to go out and make plays for us.”

Junior running back Jacquise “Speedy” Terry is also expected to make an impact as wide receiver. Terry caught four passes for 73 yards and two touchdowns against Murray State.

Kirkland and the rest of the Flashes will have their hands full tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. when Kent State travels to Boston College to face last season’s fourth-best defense in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The matchup: Kent State at Boston College


• Kent State: The Flashes’ offense is young, but talented. Sophomore quarterback Spencer Keith will look to connect with receivers Tyshon Goode and Sam Kirkland, while senior running back Eugene Jarvis makes his return to Alumni Stadium.

• Boston College: Sophomore quarterback Dave Shinskie struggled last week against Weber State, throwing two interceptions. The Eagles will rely on junior running back Montel Harris, who ran for 115 yards and a touchdown last week.


• Kent State: With the loss of senior defensive lineman Monte Simmons, the rest of the Flashes’ defense will be under pressure, which includes senior linebacker Cobrani Mixon and senior safety Brian Lainhart.

• Boston College: Senior linebacker Mark Herzlich, who was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, leads the Eagles’ defense. A cause for concern is the 24 first downs the group allowed last week to Weber State.

Special Teams

• Kent State: Sophomore kicker Freddy Cortez and junior punter Matt Rinehart will give Boston College a headache. The duo gives Kent State an advantage in field position.

• Boston College: With the loss of kicker Steve Aponavicius, freshman Nate Freese takes over. The inexperience at kicker hurts, but junior punter Ryan Quigley’s 57-yard average against Weber State helps.


• Kent State: Martin’s offensive scheme will give Boston College coach Frank Spaziani trouble.

• Boston College: Spaziani is in his 14th year on the Eagles’ coaching staff, his second as head coach. He is known for his defensive prowess.

Contact Lance Lysowski at [email protected].