A rush to judgment

Joe Harrington

Overlooked because of his size, Eugene Jarvis is making a name for himself at Kent State

Kent State sophomore running back Eugene Jarvis evades players at Ohio Saturday when the Flashes beat the Bobcats 33-25. Jarvis had two touchdowns and leads the nation in rushing. GAVIN JACKSON | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: DKS Editors

Emmitt Smith had “it.” So did Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and just about any other successful running back who plays football has. Most importantly, if you’re Kent State coach Doug Martin, Eugene Jarvis has “it.” The “it” is vision. The ability to see a play form and develop. The ability to see the hole, make people miss and then run for yard after yard.

“I’m just seeing my offensive line make big holes for me,” Jarvis said.

His vision may be opening many eyes around the country. The 5-foot-5-inch, 170 pound sophomore, has climbed to the top of arguably one of the most watched statistical categories in any level of football, rushing yards. He is now the nation’s leader.

Jarvis has 769 yards in just five games. He may not have a huge lead in that category – he leads Michigan’s Micheal Hart by only eight yards – but for a player who was overlooked by major programs while in high school, just being on top of that list in this stage of the season is impressive.

And don’t think the success will change his demeanor: Jarvis has stressed all year that he needs to continue to stay humble. He never talks about anything he has done without using the words: Offensive line, team, teammates, coaches, family and believe.

“I’m going to keep doing the things that got me to this point,” Jarvis said. “I’m not going to change anything I do on the football field. Work hard, help all my teammates and the biggest thing is to get them to believe in me. I believe in them. We’re a family.”

Belief that Jarvis could handle the haul of a college season wasn’t in sight when he played high school football, at least not by most college recruiters. They only saw a short skinny kid and not a player who scored 77 touchdowns in two years.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, who named him the city’s “Player of the Year” twice, didn’t overlook his talents, how could they? The running back was a sensation at Central Catholic High School as he rushed for 2,196 yards and had 38 touchdowns in just one season. The numbers were invisible to some, but not to a newly hired coach in Ohio.

Shortly after Jarvis finished his high school career, Martin became the head coach of Kent State and wanted to recruit players that would resemble what he wanted in a team. Great character guys who play hard every play, every game, every minute. When he saw Jarvis, the coach didn’t miss what other colleges had.

” Jerry Claiborne (Martin’s former head coach at Kentucky) used to tell me all the time when I was a young coach ‘believe what you see,'” Martin said. “And when you turn on Eugene Jarvis’s high school film – believe what you see.”

When Jarvis arrived on campus, he was red-shirted for the 2004 season, but senior defensive lineman Colin Ferrell knew right away that the team had found a great player. One day in practice, Ferrell found out just how elusive Jarvis can be.

“When he was (red-shirting), I came free (on a play in practice) thinking I was going to make the tackle,” Ferrell said with a grin. “I felt something hit my chest and I’m looking around, then I look back and I see Geno in the endzone.”

His size, admittedly, has a lot to do with defenses losing track of him behind a massive offensive line that is nearly a foot taller than him. But he still makes everyone miss.

“When he hits that hole, he hits it at 100 mph,” Ferrell said.

His size is always going to steal the headlines. The fact that he isn’t the normal running back may be the reason why defenders can’t tackle him; or it could be that Jarvis has worked hard since his freshman year to improve his strength. His lack of size and girth of the offensive line could be the reason why he leads the Mid-American Conference in touchdowns with; or it could be because he is a multi-talented back that has two touchdown catches with his seven rushing scores and is tied for the team lead in catches with 12. Maybe it’s his durability?

“If I’m healthy the skies the limit,” Jarvis said. “Right now I’m fortunate enough to be healthy and go out there and help my team as much as possible.”

Maybe it’s because he sees the big picture, the one with all of his teammates around him.

Then again, Martin never talks about any of those talents. Sometimes he even gives the vision attribute a rest when he praises Jarvis, but not often.

Jarvis is the player that Martin prefers to recruit: the player that wasn’t big enough to play in a bigger conference like the Big East; a player that wasn’t fast enough to make it in the Big Ten; in short, the player he envisioned when he took the Kent State job.

“Sometimes you got to make a decision as a coach if you believe in a kid or not,” Martin said. “One thing I’m really adamant about (to) our coaching staff in recruiting is don’t tell me who else is recruiting him or who else is offering him, because I don’t care.”

When Martin first met him in the library at Central Catholic High, he knew Jarvis was his type of player. Despite everything that had been said, he needed to see Jarvis in person. He could tell Jarvis was a player with a chip on his shoulder, a player he prefers.

“He was hacked-off that everybody else in the country didn’t believe he could play at this level,” Martin said. ” For me that means you’re going to get a kid that’s going to out every Saturday with something to prove.”

Contact football reporter Joe Harrington at [email protected].