Freshmen already special

Thomas Gallick

Rinehart, Hidalgo making contribution to team success early in Kent State careers

Freshman punter Matt Rinehart catches a snap from freshman long snapper Ryan Hidalgo after practice earlier this week. Daniel R. Doherty | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Kent State football coach Doug Martin thought he had gotten closer to fixing the Flashes’ issues on special teams before this season started, which made the Sept. 6 loss at Iowa State look like a true disaster.

Martin saw the Cyclones block two Kent State punts and worried about how freshman punter Matt Rinehart and freshman long snapper Ryan Hidalgo would react last week against Delaware State. A funny thing happened, though: The two played as if Iowa State was a distant memory.

Hidalgo and Rinehart played mistake-free football, and the freshman punter averaged 40 yards per punt, with a long of 45 yards. It was pretty good for a player Martin worried might be “brain-damaged” after his protection broke down and allowed two blocks just a week before.

Rinehart laughed off the idea that he was “brain-damaged” after the Iowa State game. He said the special teams meltdown affected him a little bit, but it never shook his confidence.

“I just had to calm down and focus on the little things,” Rinehart said. “You’ve just got to put it behind you and go to the next game.”

Martin said he was happy with the way Rinehart put his negative early-season experience behind him.



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“I thought Matt Rinehart did a nice job coming back from . the situations we put him in,” Martin said. “He kicked the ball really well.”

Rinehart said he was aware the team had problems in the kicking game when he was recruited, and he would be responsible for trying to change that if he won the job.

Last season the Flashes averaged 35.9 yards per punt, while their opponents averaged 36.9 yards per punt. So far this season, Kent State has averaged 36.6 yards per punt while their opponents have averaged 36.1 yards per punt.

While Rinehart may be the more visible member of the duo, Martin said people should be impressed by the play of Hidalgo as well.

“One of the things that goes unnoticed by most people is (Hidalgo) is a true freshman who has done a great job,” Martin said. “He’s really been really good for a true freshman to jump in there and do what he’s done in these first three games.”

Hidalgo originally came to the Flashes’ attention because of his standout defensive play as a linebacker at Whitewater High School in Fayetteville, Ga. Hidalgo had eight sacks and four forced fumbles in his senior year and set a school record for tackles in a game with 23.

Hidalgo said he felt a little added pressure knowing he would be immediately asked to come in and contribute on special teams.

“From what I heard there was some trouble last year (on special teams),” Hidalgo said. “I felt a little bit (of pressure). Any time you come in as a freshman and have to go out there and start it’s pretty interesting.”

Rinehart and Hidalgo not only depend on each other in crunch time during games, but room together and hang out in their free time.

Hidalgo said the best part of playing college football is his relationship with his teammates.

“You’re kind of able to bond with (college teammates) really easily,” Hidalgo said. “I hadn’t really noticed that back in high school. This team seems pretty good together.”

This weekend, the freshman special teams duo travels with the team to Louisiana-Lafayette, to face a team that has the third-most blocked kicks in the nation over the last five years. Martin said the Flashes will need to give their best effort in protecting Rinehart because coaches are more willing to be aggressive in blocking punts if the opposing team has given up blocks before.

“I’ve told our guys now it’s like blood in the water with the sharks,” Martin said. “Once you see one (blocked kick), everybody comes after you. We’ve got to be very aggressive with our punt team and do a much better job protecting.”

Contact sports reporter Thomas Gallick at [email protected].