Final game bittersweet for seniors

Joe Harrington

The 14 seniors on the 2007 Kent State football team seem like they’ve been here a lot longer than four or five years. Most were recruited by former Kent State coach Dean Pees, who is now the defensive coordinator of the undefeated New England Patriots. Nearly all of them played with quarterback Josh Cribbs, now a star kick returner for the Cleveland Browns.

They’ve seen highs, such as beating Iowa State in the first game of this season, and they’ve seen the lows, such as the 1-10 season of 2005. They may not go down as the most successful Kent State senior class; that would probably be the 1956 group, which is the only group to have played on four straight winning teams. Overall, these seniors finish their careers with a 15-31 record, but don’t look at the win-loss records to define this class.

None of the seniors are quarterbacks, one is a running back and six are offensive lineman; all of them have seen a lot in their careers.

No senior represents the class better than safety Fritz Jacques. The emotional leader suffered a torn ACL against Ohio on Sept. 29 and looked as if his career would be over. Instead, he worked to strengthen his knee and returned to play the final three games of the season, including having nine tackles against Buffalo. Some people can’t walk with a stubbed toe — he played three Division I college football games with shredded knee ligaments.

“It has been a great example to any player of what sacrifice and commitment and courage is all about,” Kent State coach Doug Martin said.

ACL injuries seem to be a habit in this class. Tight end Tom Sitko tore his ACL his freshman year against Iowa. Running back and kick returner Jon Drager suffered two season-ending knee injuries before returning every punt this season. There are a total of seven seniors who missed at least one season due to injury during their careers.

But they won’t be remembered for that either. Defensive lineman Colin Ferrell finishes his career with 45.5 tackles for a loss, fourth-most in school history. Ferrell lined-up next to Larry Brown every game, becoming one of the better defensive line tandems in the conference. Defensive back Jack Williams is third on the all-time interception list with 13 for his career.

Long-snapper Matt Muller has played in all of the 46 games Kent State has played the past four years. Muller graduated in three years Magna Cum Laude with a grade point average of 3.68.

They probably won’t be remembered for those accolades either.

The offensive line featured seniors such as guards Joe Marafine, Shawn Donaldson, Kiff Kinkead, Bill Starry and tackle Jon English. This past season, they helped sophomore running back Eugene Jarvis break the school’s single-season rushing record and led the team to finish the season with 2,403 rushing yards. Kent State finished the season as the second-best rushing team in the Mid-American Conference.

The only senior wide receiver, Cameron Bobb, finishes his career with 44 catches, but he’ll be remembered best as the 2005 Gerald and Victoria Read Award for hard work and dedication.

Tight ends Sitko and Jake Parsons provided many downfield blocks as both were valuable blockers. Then again, Sitko, who played quarterback at Hoban High School, looked like Earl Campbell when he carried three Buffalo defenders into the endzone with him to give the Flashes a fourth-quarter lead Saturday.

These seniors will be remembered as players who didn’t quit after a 1-10 season. Players who helped bring the Wagon Wheel back home in 2006 and who won arguably the biggest game in Kent State history — the Iowa State game — since 1987. What would they do to play one more season?

“Anything. I’d give anything because we’ve been through so much together and we’ve been through the ups and downs,” Ferrell said. “That’s why I’m so emotional on the field, because I’m going to miss the hell out of these guys.”

Contact football reporter Joe Harrington at [email protected].